There are various elements to thriving or successful relationships, depending on the type of relationship and environment. Thriving work relationships have different needs than thriving romantic relationships. While each relationship is different and may require unique components to thrive, there is one critical element to simply maintaining a peaceful (i.e. low conflict) relationship no matter what type of relationship it is. Whether it’s relationships with others in society, with neighbors, family members, friends, coworkers, or romantic partners, there’s one simple rule that should be followed to mitigate unhealthy conflict and maintain peace: Let the other(s) do whatever they want within the boundaries of the relationship agreement. This, I contend, is the Silver Rule of peaceful relationships.
Okay, sound simplistic? Well, let’s break it down. There are two crucial elements of this rule to clarify. First, what does it mean to allow. Second, what does it mean to have a relationship agreement?
Allowing Others to be Themselves
To allow means essentially not to force, constrain, or judge someone else’s behavior or thoughts. This addresses the basic psychological need of autonomy: supporting someone to be who they most authentically are. Many people who find themselves having trouble maintaining relationships do not abide by this need. Some push others away because they are constantly attempting to force, constrain, or judge others for their behaviors or thoughts. Others avoid relationships because they always assume others to expect something of them that will feel forced, constrained or judged; they do not believe they can be their authentic selves without pressure to be otherwise.
The healthiest relationships are built upon mutual respect for one another’s absolute agency, wherein each person truly believes they can be themselves without force, constraint, or judgment. This sets the foundation for truly successful relationships. For instance, you’ll often hear long-term romantic partners say they knew it was the right relationship because they finally found someone with whom they could just completely be themselves. Or they became their best versions of themselves because their partner admired and encouraged their unique and true qualities. This is true with professional relationships as well; when people feel truly encouraged to be their authentic selves at work, they typically feel it is a good fit (at least, a good culture fit). If someone’s authentic behavior doesn’t work for their partner or organization, then either it isn’t the right person to be in that type of relationship with OR they are not clear about or have not agreed to any relationship agreement, and that must be remedied for a peaceful relationship to exist.
That brings us to the second element in this rule: the relationship agreement. Every relationship operates with some explicit and/or implicit agreements. In society, between people who live amongst each other, the relationship agreement consists of explicit laws and implicit cultural rules. In the workplace, the agreement consists of the codes of conduct and role expectations. In families or romantic relationships, sometimes there are explicit ground rules in addition to various implicit expectations. Understanding and adapting to how these rules and agreements, explicit or implicit, change across contexts is imperative for successful, healthy relationships.
For peaceful relationships, in any context or dynamic, we must start with clarity about what is expected of each person to make sure everyone has agreed to and is willing to participate in the relationship under this agreement. We cannot expect others to read our minds or adhere to non-explicit or non-agreed-upon rules. If you believe some rules or expectations are implied, and the other individual(s) is not living up to those expectations, then perhaps you need to make the agreement more explicit. The clearer we are about what is expected of everyone, the better. And then, we all must agree to such expectations of our own will and volition. Once the rules are set and everyone has agreed, we cannot expect someone to behave above, beyond, or outside of that structure. We should not force, constrain, or judge others to be or do something other than what they have agreed to.
So, you want to have peaceful relationships with society, your neighbors, your coworkers, your romantic partners? Let them do what they want within the boundaries of the relationship agreement. Stop nagging, complaining, micromanaging, or passively suggesting when you feel disappointed about their behavior. Stop feeling frustrated, let down, and stressed out that someone isn’t who you wish they were. Instead, get clear on the relationship agreement, make sure they’ve also agreed, and then let them be themselves within that framework!
The Silver Rule of Peaceful Relationships
If the Golden Rule is to do unto others as you would have them do unto you, then the Silver Rule ought to be: allow others to be themselves within the boundaries of the relationship agreement. If you do not live by this golden rule, conflict is inevitable. Sometimes, that conflict can be healthy and lead to rethinking and reestablishing elements of the agreement. In other cases, when conflict is improperly managed, it can lead to distress, confusion, and destructive behaviors.
So, do yourself a favor… Make sure everyone is clear on the agreement. If you’re not clear or you’re unhappy with the current agreement, do what you can to change it by collaborating with the others in the relationship to come up with something that works for everyone, including you. Then, as long as everyone abides by the rules, let them do, be, and think whatever they want. Let them be their authentic selves without force or judgment, and you be your authentic self without constraint or self-judgment.
Going one step further, if you want not just a peaceful relationship but a thriving one, then do not simply allow them to be themselves and allow you to be yourself. Instead, encourage, support, and appreciate them and yourself for being so.