Repairing Relationships-Part IV
In my capacity as an outpatient psychologist for twenty-five
years, I deal with the same eight conditions over and over.
One of the most common complaints I hear about is relationships.
(The other seven are mood problems, children's behaviors, ADHD or
learning disorders, anxiety, low self-esteem, poor assertiveness
and addictions). This is Part IV of a five part series of articles
that describe the five most essential elements for keeping longer-term
relationships alive. (It so happens that these same techniques work
in all relationships.) Please read Parts I, II and III before reading
The fourth trick to repair relationships is to develop greater
empathy for your partner. Empathy is the ability to "walk a mile in
someone else's moccasins." It is the ability to see the world through
someone else's eyes.
In relationships, this ability is very necessary, and it also has
to be applied. It is one thing to "get" what another person might feel
or think. It is quite another thing to put that knowledge into action.
So, the fourth technique for repairing relationships is to apply empathy
to your partner. I call this the 51/49 Rule...
The 51/49 Rule states that fifty-one percent of the time, you will
consider your partner's wishes and wants first, before considering your
own. This applies to all (appropriate) things, especially those
activities and experiences common to both of you.
Notice this rule does not significantly take away much from your
own choices. I'm only talking about one percent difference in selfish
vs. altruistic gestures. The remaining forty-nine percent of the time,
you are going to be assertive and/or oriented to the things you want to do.
It turns out, forty-nine percent of the time doing this is more than enough
to be personally effective and to do and say the things you want.
And, if you think about this, if both you and your partner engage in
51/49 thinking, the average is still 50/50, which is what is ideal when
there are two people in a relationship. (If you are old school Mormon,
the percentages drop, because there are more people in the relationship and
the power positions are not equal. If you married two other people, you
would only get what you want about thirty-three percent of the time...)
Why even bother with this small adjustment if the average is still
going to be 50/50 and you both are going to ultimately get what you both
want half the time? Well, the answer is that by considering your partner
just a little bit more than yourself, there are communicated different
messages to your partner. These are the important ones, and there are two.
One, your partner is important enough to make this mind set a goal. This
elevates his or her self-esteem, and does so a wee bit each time you make
this choice. You value your partner just a wee bit more than yourself,
which in the big picture forges better personality characteristics in you
(empathy and altruism vs. selfishness again), while bringing out the better
qualities in your partner. Two, and this is the most important from my point
of view; it brings to the relationship the experience of cherishing.
Cherishing is defined as: to hold or treat as dear; feel love for, to
care for tenderly, to nurture. Now, what relationship could not benefit from