“Treat others the way you want to be treated.” The Golden Rule has been the standard of behavior in friendships, business partnerships, customer service, and much more. In marriage, however, it can actually lead to problems. Might I suggest an amendment? “Treat your spouse the way he or she wants to be treated.”
We all have needs, some in common with our partners, some unique to ourselves. Just because you value time to yourself doesn’t mean that your spouse does. You might enjoy foot rubs; your spouse may prefer to have their back scratched. You might crave words of affirmation; your spouse may have little use for words and prefer thoughtful actions. Your spouse may primarily express love through physical intimacy, while you may need affectionate nonintimate touch throughout the day to feel loved (and in order to want sex later on). You might enjoy a surprise gift, while your spouse prefers to be taken shopping to pick it out themselves.
In his famous book The Five Love Languages (buy it here), Gary Chapman describes the five ways we give and receive love: words of affirmation, acts of service, gifts, quality time, and physical touch. We tend to model for our spouses the way we want them to love us. If we value words of affirmation, we give words of affirmation. If we value quality time, we give quality time, etc. This is because we’re practicing the Golden Rule (treating our spouses how we want to be treated). But if our spouse has a different “love language,” the message of love won’t be getting through clearly.
Talk with your spouse. Let them know how you’d like for affection to be shown, and ask what they need in order to feel love from you. You might be more of a “physical touch” kind of person, but if your spouse needs words of affirmation, or if there’s any other difference between the two of you, remember to love your spouse the way they want to be loved, not how you want to love them. It may take you outside of your comfort zone, but the payoff is well worth it.
Jonathan Decker is a licensed marriage and family therapist available for face-to-face and online webcam sessions. He’s also a film critic for KJZZ-TV Mormons at the Megaplex, and Movie Dad. His book, 250 Great Movies for Latter-day Families, is available in paperback and Kindle.