The Golden Rule: The Relationship Flaw

“Treat others the same as you’d like to be treated.”

Translation: treat others nicely because you’d want the same in return. Pretty standard advice from a parent, teacher, or any other adult imparting wisdom on a child.

The advice has been passed down from generation to generation, and in most cases, it’s fairly sound practice. I’ll treat you like a valuable human being because I’d like to be treated that way, and usually, the law of reciprocity will work in my favor.

But there’s a tragic flaw in the Golden Rule: it can screw up your relationship with the one person you love most. In general, it won’t. Keep treating your spouse or significant other with kindness; that’s always a good idea.

But when it comes to the specifics of how you show your love, break the Golden Rule. Rules are made to be broken, right?

The 5 Love Languages

I remember the first time I heard about the book The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman. Back when my wife and I were just a couple of kids dating, we were enjoying a nice walk on a sunny day, and she asked me:

“So, what are your love languages?”

“Ummmm, French? I took that in high school. I heard that’s the language of love.”

“No, no, no. The love languages. There’s 5 of them, I’m curious which ones are strongest for you?”

She spent the next half hour telling me all about them. The 5 love languages that Chapman discusses in his book, and that Christina then shared with me, center around how people like to receive love from others. It is through these love languages that we feel closest to our partners because of how they show us.

The 5 love languages are:

  • Words of Affirmation
  • Acts of Service
  • Receiving Gifts
  • Quality Time
  • Physical Touch

Why the Golden Rule Is Messing With Your Relationship

After talking it through with Christina for a while, we discovered that our top two love languages were the same. I think this is one of the reasons that our relationship and marriage are so strong: we subconsciously practice the Golden Rule.

By treating each other how we want to be treated, we’re both fulfilling each other’s needs.

That’s all well and good for us, but that’s not how it works for some people. We’re lucky in the sense that we vibe with the same love languages, so by defaulting to the Golden Rule, we’re good to go.

But what if your love languages are different? The Golden Rule could cause some trouble.

Let’s say that one person favors Words of Affirmation and Physical Touch, while their spouse seeks Acts of Service and Quality Time. Since we are all defaulting to the Golden Rule due to its normally favorable results, this could be an issue.

Again, we innately treat others how we want to be treated. This means that the person who favors Acts of Service will take care of their partner and serve them. If their spouse, girlfriend, or boyfriend doesn’t care all that much about Acts of Service, two things will happen: they won’t show much appreciation for the acts being performed, and the person performing them will be annoyed that they go unnoticed.

This is where disconnects occur and resentment sets in. Neither of them knows why, but it’s the Golden Rule’s fault.

Just because your love languages are different from your partners doesn’t mean that you’re doomed. You can still have an amazing relationship while having conflicting languages. What you lack in language compatibility you need to gain in awareness. Figure out how your partner likes to receive their love. Do your best to deliver your love in the ways that it will be received most meaningfully.

The Golden Rule isn’t so golden. It works most of the time, but if you want to give and receive love in a way that will serve your relationship the best, it might be time to break that rule.

Take the 5 love language quiz below and see where you stand. Use the information to breathe life and love into your relationship. I promise you it’s worth your time.

5 Love Languages


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