As a child you probably learned The Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. It is a simple rule that helps children gain a perspective outside of themselves. The limitation to this rule, however, is the assumption that all people want the same things. More helpful to relationships is The Platinum Rule: Treat others the way THEY want to be treated.
The Golden Rule falls short when what we need isn’t exactly what others would need if they were in the same situation. I once worked with a client whose wife took a variety of medications each day. By his own report, he nagged her every day, reminding her and checking to see if she had taken her doses. She finally told him, “Please don’t say another word about my medication.” “But what if you forget?” my client asked. “Then I forget. I would rather not take my medication than be hounded by you all of the time,” his wife explained. He looked at me incredulously as he recounted this story. “What, am I just not supposed to care?!”
From my client’s perspective, he was simply expressing his love for his wife. It was his way of caring about and for her. He had difficulty separating the feeling of caring for her from the action of reminding and nagging her. He believed that if the roles were reversed, he would feel very loved and cared for if his wife helped him remember to take his medication. He had applied The Golden Rule. His wife, on the other hand, would have much preferred The Platinum Rule: Treat others the way THEY want to be treated. Her illness had already compromised some of her independence. To be constantly nagged and reminded made her feel even more like a child.
The challenge of The Platinum Rule is to be willing to listen empathically to your loved one’s needs. If you are finding yourself having difficulty communicating your needs to your loved ones, or, are confused as to why your “help” isn’t being graciously received, please give me a call at Athens Counseling Center, or send me an email. Let’s talk about it.