The time-honored golden rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” is a profound instruction for relationships in general. But in intimate partnerships, we need to take this admonishment a step further. Our golden rule for couples is: “Do unto others as they would have you do unto them.” Instead of treating our partner as we would like to be treated, we need to treat them as they want to be treated.
This is harder than it seems, for at least three reasons. One, we’re all pretty self-centered, far more in touch with our own desires than with those of our partner. Two, most of us think other people’s desires are similar, if not identical, to ours (and if they are not, they should be!). Three, we operate out of the erroneous belief that our partner should know exactly what it is that you want.
Yet we all know how wonderful it feels to be cared for in just the way that makes us feel loved. So why not do it right – exactly right? Our partner’s preferences are usually very different from our own, no matter how much we might have in common. Unfortunately, partners often feel miffed and upset when they don’t get their heart’s desire. But we cannot read each other’s mind. The only way to get exactly what we want is to tell our partner just what that is, in every detail. Like subtle threads in the fabric of our relationship, target behaviors sew us together. It’s the little, seemingly insignificant things we do for each other that create invisible stitches: a kiss (on the ear with your hand in my hair) when you leave the house; a piece of (bitter-sweet) chocolate (that’s been kept in the freezer) brought from the kitchen during a commercial while we watch our favorite show together; coming home to a warm house because your partner lit the fire (with some pine boughs in it for the scent) with your favorite chair pulled (with the book youarea reading) up close.
Caring behaviors that are right on target weave especially strong threads. One cup of coffee in your favorite mug with just the right about of sugar tastes better than ten too-sweet cups. One perfect peach-colored French tulip beats out a dozen long-stemmed roses in the “you-know-just-who-I-am-and-just-what-I-want” department one day.
Here are some recommendations for finding those behaviors that touch your partner’s heart:
- In a spirit of fun and mutual fact gathering, carve some time out with your partner and share with each other about your tastes and preferences. Ask each other questions to see how well you know each other: “What is your favorite color?” “How do you like your coffee?” “Where would you go on a dream vacation?” “What is your favorite meal?” “What is your favorite song?” “What is your lifelong dream?” We call this a Partner Inventory. Take notes!
- Identify behaviors that you currently receive from your partner (current behaviors), behaviors you received in your earlier romantic days together (past behaviors), and behaviors that your partner does not do but, if they did, would make you feel loved or cared about (future behaviors.) Share this information with your partner, “I feel cared about and loved when you….” And, “I felt cared about and loved when you….” And, “I would feel cared about and loved if you….” And ask your partner to do the same. Write these sharings down.
- Start gifting your partner on a daily basis with these loving behaviors that touch his or heart.
- When you receive a loving behavior from your partner, thank your partner!
- Gifts are unconditional. A tit-for-tat mentality does not sit well with the old brain. It interprets such behaviors as, “Look out! Price tag attached. There is no reason to feel good about this gift, because I’ll have to pay for it later.” We need to give unconditionally.
- Just because you or your partner asked for a behavior doesn’t mean you have to do it. Some might require a little stretching (good) but other requests might be too challenging (don’t do.) But consider all requests and revisit them every so often. You might find what you can’t give now, you can give later as your relationship begins to reap the rewards of unconditional giving and receiving.
These intentional daily repetitions of positive behaviors tells your old brain that your partner is “someone who nurtures me.” Daily, connecting interactions open the way for intimacy, which is only possible in a context of safety and pleasure.