Archive for Relationships

Trust your intuition: don’t think about love!

Have you ever been asked why you like someone? Have you ever been at a loss for words? In today’s society, we are expected to have reasons for everything we do and think. Moreover, we are expected to elucidate those reasons. Intangible concepts such as intuition or gut-instinct are seldom considered “rational reasons” for our actions. Yet, as research shows, these can actually be the most reliable guide of all.

Research by Timothy Wilson and colleagues asked university couples how well-adjusted they considered their relationships. Some couples were allowed to answer based on gut-feel, whereas others were asked to first analyse their relationship out load and verbally explain the reasons for their answers. The experiment found that the couples who answered based on gut-feel were significantly more accurate at assessing their relationships than those who first explained their reasons, as measured by whether they were still together several months later. This demonstrates that our intuition can outperform our ability to verbally reason. See Less thinking leads to better decisions for more examples.

What is the problem with verbal reasoning? The problem is that not all thoughts can be expressed in words. If we reason about something verbally, we tend to skim over those thoughts that we cannot easily express. Thus, if asked to explain why we like someone, we focus on concrete traits that we can describe, whereas most of what we value in a relationship really falls under the category of intangible and inexpressible qualities. This may explain why couples are much better at evaluating their relationships when they answer solely based on intuition.

Thus, whether justifying our actions to ourselves or to another, referring to intuition or gut-feel is a perfectly valid explanation. Concrete and tangible reasons may be attractive – they can be easily shared with others, they can be written down in a table of pros and cons – but at the end of the day they can only capture a small component of what is important. The power of intuition to grasp all of this and more, and to sum this up as a feeling, is foolish to ignore…particularly in matters of love.

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Should we be non-judgemental?

Do we state our opinions, or do we stay non-judgemental? It often seems to be a fine line. Perhaps we think our friend spends too much money, so what do we say when this friend wants to buy a new car? Do we nod enthusiastically and discuss the best make and model? Or do we frown in disapproval and lecture them about debt? On the one hand, it is not our place to judge – just because we would spend less does not mean they are obliged to think likewise. Yet on the other hand, we feel responsible for our friend and we want to help them with our best advice. By staying silent are we offering our tacit approval, and perhaps compromising our principles?

Another example is people’s attitudes towards relationships. How much time should you spend with your boyfriend/girlfriend? Should you live together before marriage? Should you have sex before marriage? Which is more important: your partner or your career? People’s attitudes to these questions vary greatly, and we will likely end up in a conversation with someone who thinks very differently from us. How should we approach these situations? Do we state our opinions, or do we stay non-judgemental and try to view things from their perspective?

We must do both. We must reserve our judgement and understand that everyone sees things differently, yet we can do this while still stating our opinions. Some people state their opinions in a way that demands agreement, being critical, vocally disapproving, and highly judgemental. However, we can also state opinions, even forcefully so, without being judgemental. For example, I do not smoke, and I am not afraid to explain my reasons why. They include the obvious health risk, the financial cost, and the resulting unpleasantness to those around me. I will happily say all of this to a smoker, but I do not judge them because they smoke. After all, perhaps the enjoyment that they gain is worth the cost. Perhaps it improves their quality of life. I would rather live a short and enjoyable life than a long and miserable one, and from this perspective, some smokers may have made the right decision. This is no reason for me to stay silent – I think that my arguments against smoking are good ones and should be considered – but it is a good reason for me not to judge.

Hence, we must remember that what is right to us may not be right for another. We cannot judge what people should or should not do. In spite of this, we can still share our opinion and be forceful in doing so. Being non-judgemental does not mean staying silent about what we believe, it simply means acknowledging that others can believe differently. These differences are not a problem, they are something to celebrate. They expand our horizons and make life interesting. Being at peace with them is the key to harmonious relationships.

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