Relationships so easily end up in feeling critical of your partner or annoyed, that’s because living together exposes us to the other person’s dark side. Unfortunately our brains are programmed to hang onto the negatives so we don’t end up being eaten by lions, tigers or bears. Our brains encourage us to indulge our negativity.

Relationships Require The Benefit Of The Doubt

amp;nbsp; Relationships so easily end up in feeling critical of your partner or annoyed, that’s because living together exposes us to the other person’s dark side. Our brains encourage us to indulge our negativity. Add to that any resentments that have silently piled up which will feed stinginess.

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Then add to the brain’s negativity bias that any resentments that have silently piled up feed stinginess. The resentments lie in the dark waiting to whack your partner off at the knees. 

Listening to the author Ron Chernow lecture on his new book on President Grant, it was very moving to hear him describe the love he shared with Julia Dent. Her family were slave holders & his were antislavery so they conquered that massive difference & maintained a very special love their entire life. Chernow described Julia as having a dream Grant would be President & believing in his qualities even though Grant was selling firewood on street corners to survive when they had four children. Julia Dent Grant had a remarkable ability to give Ulysses S. Grant the benefit of the doubt. I’m not sure I could have gone that far…..

This really stands out in my mind as a very unique relationship.

It’s so easy for the differences you first fell in love with to become tiresome over time. It’s easy to become annoyed & irritated……….building walls is so much part of our culture; we all find it easier to take offense & play defense. Getting critical & judgmental erases possibilities for connections.

So what you need to do is the opposite…..what’s that you might be wondering?


Critical is such a knee jerk bad habit, so easy to fall into…’s way harder to be open & curious. You have to find out what the story is behind a bad choice, or the understanding of how a bad habit is comforting to someone you love or curious enough to explore forgiveness when someone unintentionally hurts you.

Curiosity helps relationships thrive, especially when combined with a partner who can be honest in return.

I think that’s what creates the intimacy & magic of NBC’s This Is Us. People are curious about each other & seek each other out for more information in difficult situations. Then the honesty that creates the infrastructure of respect that creates their lasting relationships. I love the scene where Beth & Kate share their evil thoughts with each other on Thanksgiving in Season 4.

Of course you have to balance giving the benefit of the doubt to someone who is worth it. How do you know someone is worth it? 

When someone wants to help you grow that’s a good sign. Another is when someone is willing to be influenced by you because the ultimate test of respect is that you can influence someone else. My personal favorite is someone who is honest, especially when it’s hard. The most rare thing you can look for is #4 which is self awareness. Though not many share this attribute because it is super hard. Self awareness is both a curse & a blessing. People find therapy hard because it is all about self awareness. Self awareness is really the first step on the way to being a better person, because you take responsibility for your mistakes.

So if someone has 3 of the 4, the odds are it’s worth giving them the benefit of the doubt. If they have 2 of the 4 they may grow into & learn the 3rd.

I love this quote from David Schnarch who says “Relationships are a people growing machine.” I grew up a lot because I wanted to be a better person. 

So growing up is honestly facing painful situations; like how you’ve been a jerk. When you have clarity on how you are a jerk then you have more compassion for somebody else; because you know deep down to your toes how you have accepted your own humanity. I believe compassion is at the root of giving someone you love the benefit of the doubt.

Compassion begins with compassion for yourself, everybody hurts the people they love because growing up usually spills over onto others. So the compassion you develop for yourself is the path to giving your partner the benefit of the doubt.

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About the Rhoda Mills Sommer

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