Give your partner the benefit of the doubt
People in satisfying and fulfilling relationships give themselves: The Benefit of Doubt.
Giving your partner the benefit of the doubt comes from a sense of caring and understanding in your relationship. Nothing strengthens your relationship more than being understanding (Andreychik, 2017). It conveys trust and appreciation. When you give your partner the benefit of the doubt, they will feel closer to you and more appreciated by you. This will likely help them give you the benefit of the doubt as well.
The power of empathy to give your partner the benefit of the doubt
This feeling of understanding your partner is commonly referred to as empathy. As I describe in my relationship book,Why can’t you read my mind?, Empathy is the emotional glue that holds couples together. A better understanding of your partner’s stance on points of conflict will often help clear up the obstacles and the underlying toxic thoughts associated with them.
I’ve never seen anyone walk into my office and say, “My problem is that my partner understands me too much. Developing empathy for your partner means truly understanding what life has been and is like for them. Empathy is not a mystical power. It’s not magic, intuition, or just “warm blurs”. And don’t get me wrong; empathy is not mind reading.
Empathy is not something that drains or exhausts partners. Sympathy can be exhausting, but not empathy. Sympathy causes us to feel that we have to do something. Empathy empowers us with a special sense of oneness and connection that is formed by a powerful shared mutual identification for the person you love.
There’s no doubt that empathy is crucial in helping to give your partner the benefit of the doubt. Let’s look at some brief examples of how it works.
Two Examples of Giving the Benefit of the Doubt
Sheri is late for a date with her boyfriend, Tim. Her phone, which she was planning to replace, dies, so she is unable to text Tim that she got stuck in traffic. Tim looks visibly disturbed when Sheri arrives at the restaurant and approaches their table. It has cold, arctic winds that initially come from its shoulder.
As Sheri explains this series of incidents to Tim, he shifts from a bored-only mode to a caring and empathetic mode. He knows inside that time management isn’t one of Sheri’s dominant strengths, but he also realizes that it’s a real struggle for her. His willingness to be empathetic helps him give Sheri the benefit of the doubt.
As another example of giving the benefit of the doubt, Craig shares with his wife, Jill, that he would like to start his own consulting company. Jill then feels an understandable anxiety (as does Craig). At the same time, she understands that this need for entrepreneurship is a long-standing need and goal for Craig.
Sheri and Craig have a series of calm, constructive conversations about their savings: Craig has many active contacts in his industry to seek employment if things don’t work out, and Craig is willing to temporarily give up his golf hobbies and tennis, due to costs, while starting his consulting business. Jill supports Craig’s efforts and two years later Craig, the founding partner, has hired two partners to meet the demand for his services.
5 Steps to Giving Your Partner the Benefit of the Doubt
Here’s how to make the benefit of the doubt work for you, your partner, and your relationship.
1. When something bothers you, seek to understand why it happened.
2. Put yourself in your partner’s shoes. Suppose they have good intentions.
3. Consider how caring and loving your partner was in the past. Next, ask yourself if it’s possible that your partner doesn’t intend to cause you grief.
4. Reflect on the positive reasons you are together and the positive memories shared.
5. If you find your frustrations and anxiety overwhelming you, take a few gentle, relaxing breaths or silently count to ten to calm your reacting brain. Then repeat the first four steps.
Relationships take work. Yet we must ask ourselves if we are simply working hard (eg having the same fights over and over again) or if we can learn and grow to give each other the gift of reasonable acceptance from our intimate partners. I have no doubt that giving ourselves the benefit of the doubt helps us work smarter and feel happier in our romantic relationships.