The Relationship-Saving Way Happy Couples Flip The Script On The 'Golden Rule'

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woman presents mug of coffee standing in front of mirror with love notes stuck to it

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 a partner like we would want to be treated, we need to treat them how they would like to be treated. 

Following the Platinum Rule is harder than it seems, for at least three reasons:

  1. We’re all pretty self-centered, far more in touch with our own desires than with those of our partner.
  2. Most of us think other people’s desires are similar, if not identical, to ours (and if they are not, they should be!).
  3. We operate out of the erroneous belief that our partner should know exactly what it is that you want.

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?

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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 minds. 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 you are 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.

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How to find the 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:

Take a partner inventory:

  • 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?

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.

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Make a point to give ... and say "thank you"!

Start gifting your partner on a daily basis with these loving behaviors that touch his or her heart. When you receive a loving behavior from your partner, thank your partner!

Two things to remember when following this platinum rule:

1. 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.

2. 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 tell 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.

RELATED: 3 'Love Language' Communication Skills That Will Make Your Relationship Last Forever

Harville Hendrix, Ph. D., is a couples therapist with over 40 years of experience as a counselor, educator, clinical trainer, author, public lecturer and has received many awards for his work with couples. He and his wife, Helen LaKelly Hunt, co-created Imago Relationship Therapy, a therapy for couples now practiced by over 2,200 certified therapists in 30 countries.

This article was originally published at Harville & Helen's website. Reprinted with permission from the author.