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Giving Your Partner the Benefit of the Doubt

The importance of seeing your partner's perspective.

Key points

  • Shifting your focus to understanding your partner's stuggles builds good will that comes back to you and strengthens your relationship.
  • Reflect on the positive reasons that you have chosen your partner.
  • Put yourself in your partner’s shoes and assume that they have good intentions.

People in satisfying, fulfilling relationships give each other the benefit of the 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, too.

The Power of Empathy for Giving Your Partner the Benefit of the Doubt

This sense of understanding your partner is commonly referred to as empathy. As I describe in my book, Why Can't You Read My Mind?, empathy is the emotional glue that holds couples together. A deeper understanding of your partner’s position on points of conflict will often help remove the roadblocks and the underlying toxic thoughts associated with them.

I have never had someone come into my office and say, “My problem is that my partner understands me too much.“ Developing empathy for your partner means really understanding what life has been and is like for them. Empathy is not some mystical power. It is not magic, intuition, or just the “warm fuzzies.“ And make no mistake: Empathy is not mind-reading.

Empathy is not something that drains or depletes partners. Sympathy can be draining, but not empathy. Sympathy leads us to feel we have to do something. Empathy empowers us by a special sense of togetherness and connection that is formed by powerful mutual shared identification for the one you love.

There is no doubt that empathy is crucial for helping to give your partner the benefit of the doubt. Let's look at some brief examples of how this works.

Three Examples of Giving the Benefit of the Doubt

  • Sheri is running late for date night with her boyfriend, Tim. Her phone, which she has been meaning to replace, dies so she is not able to text Tim that she got stuck in traffic. Tim is looking visibly perturbed when Sheri arrives at the restaurant and approaches their table. He has some cold, arctic winds initially coming off his shoulder. As Sheri explains this series of mishaps to Tim, he switches modes from being annoyed to being caring and empathetic. He knows inwardly that time management is not one of Sheri's prevailing strengths, but he also tunes in to how this is a true struggle for her. His willingness to be empathetic helps him give Sheri the benefit of the doubt.
  • Craig shares with his wife, Jill, that he'd like to start his own consulting firm. Jill then feels understandable anxiety (as does Craig). At the same time, she empathizes about how this need for entrepreneurship has been a longstanding need and goal for Craig. Jill 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 and tennis hobbies, due to costs, while starting up his consulting enterprise. Jill supports Craig's endeavor and two years later, Craig, the founding partner, has hired two associates to keep up with demand for his services.
  • Kirk, age 40, cheats on his wife, Sarah. After his affair is discovered, Kirk expresses deep remorse—followed by action. He quickly severs all ties with the other woman. He allows Sarah to look at his phone and email when she requests in an effort to rebuild trust. They go to couples counseling together to heal as a couple. All the while, a friend that Sarah confided in tells her she is crazy to stay with Kirk. Nonetheless, Sarah gives Kirk the benefit of the doubt and their marriage not only heals but gets stronger.

5 Steps To Give Your Partner The Benefit Of The Doubt

Here is how to make the benefit of the doubt work for you, your partner, and your relationship.

  1. When something upsets you, seek to understand the reasons why it happened.
  2. Put yourself in your partner’s shoes. Assume that they have good intentions.
  3. Consider your partner’s caring and love shown in the past. Then ask yourself if there is a possibility that your partner had no intention of causing you grief.
  4. Reflect on the positive reasons that you are together and on shared positive memories.
  5. If you find your frustrations and anxiety overwhelm you, take some gentle relaxing breaths or silently count to 10 to calm down your reacting brain. Then repeat the first four steps.

Relationships take work. Yet, we need to ask ourselves if we are just working hard (e.g., having the same fights over and over) or if we can learn and grow to give each other the gift of reasonable acceptance of our intimate partners. I have no doubt that giving each other the benefit of the doubt helps us work smarter and feel happier in our loving relationships.


Michael R. Andreychik (2017). I like that you feel my pain, but I love that you feel my joy: Empathy for a partner’s negative versus positive emotions independently affect relationship quality, The Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, First Published December 10, 2017 Research Articlem

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