Why Are We Nicer To Strangers Than Our Loved Ones?

As many of you know, I’ve been (unsuccessfully) trying to become a decent tennis player, and now the moment has come when I know all hope is lost: My 12 year-old can play me under the table.

Despite this, I decided she and I would “team up” and play doubles against two friends of mine who are about our level. And, all was going well – until I messed up a few times. Well, this upset my daughter to the point that she mumbled, “I didn’t want you on my team in the first place.” Yep. It hurt.

But, it got me thinking: She would NEVER treat a stranger like this. I’ve watched as other doubles partners mess up over and over again, and she doesn’t seem to mind at all. So, what gives? Why do my loved-ones treat strangers better than they treat me? And why do I do the same?

I thought I would investigate.

According to Alex Lickerman at Psychology Today, “it’s not that all the wonderful things we loved about our loved ones when they first entered our lives have gradually become repulsive to us. Rather, it’s that our tolerance for all the things we’ve always disliked invariably diminishes over time.” And, since we remember negative experiences more than pleasurable experiences, “we arrive at the explanation: We have the least tolerance for the negative qualities of those with whom we spend the most time.”

He has three ways to help:

  1. Pause on a regular basis to vividly subtract your loved ones from your life. Imagine your life without your loved one, and you’re likely to appreciate him/her more.
  2. Spend time with your loved ones in the company of other people. That way, we can observe them at their best, and they can observe us at our best.
  3. Take a break from your loved ones as needed. Get out and nurture yourself, so you can get a fresh perspective on your loved one when you return.

So, whereas it’s normal to behave nicer to strangers than our loved ones, it’s still not healthy. So, try these tips, and see if you can be the best you – even with your loved one around.


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