“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways,” Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote in her famous sonnet. And then she spent the remaining 14 lines talking about herself: “I love thee to the depth and breadth and height/My soul can reach,...” blah blah blah.
And you thought she was going to talk about all the things there were to love about her hubby Bobby Wobby!
No wonder nine-year-old boys think love is icky!
In any case, when it comes to relationships, liking and disliking is a way more potent force than loving and not loving. People fall out of like before they fall out of love, and it’s the lack of liking that kicks the life out of a relationship.
So why don’t we like other people? It sounds like a stupid question. Don’t we know that right away? Well, not exactly. We often know when we don’t like someone. Pretty quickly, in fact. But why? That can be harder to put your finger on.
It can seem as though there are a million reasons. I’m embarrassed to say I’ve disliked people because of the phony-baloney hat they were wearing, or their resting sneer face, or the way they . . . talk . . . so . . . slow. Sometimes we don’t like people because they’re different from us or because they disagree with us.
But most of the time it’s...well, let me tell you about a family I worked with. Dad was a rich, brilliant scientist, mom an artist, and there were three adult kids. Five people. No one liked the dad. When they came into my office it soon became clear why. With five people, if no one is going to dominate then each one should take up about 20 percent of the time, right? 5 times 20 percent equals 100 percent. But dad took up a good 40 to 50 percent of the talk time. And why not? He knew everything.
You get it: he hogged the floor and he acted like a know-it-all.
So I worked with the dad to make two simple changes.
One. Don’t talk more than 20 percent of the time if there are five of you. No more than 50 percent if there’s just two of you. Not more than 33% if there’s three. You get the picture. He eventually did.
Two. Get a clue: no one likes a know-it-all. So spend your precious floor time showing interest in the other people. Spend your time asking questions instead of answering questions that no one’s asked.
He was bright enough to get this. He put it into action, and the people in his family started liking him.
So what is this? The common ingredient in so many of the things people do to make us dislike them is power. They take power. How?
They grab more than their share of the talk time.
They hog the spotlight.
They want you to show more interest in them than they do in you.
They tell long pointless meandering stories that they themselves would not want to hear.
They are critical and judgmental.
Now it doesn’t take a genius to see that these are power moves. Yes. There is almost a perfect overlap between the things people do that disempower us and the things they do that make us dislike them.
There’s a connection here. We don’t like people who disempower us. We do like people who empower us.
Now there’s still a mystery. There are certain men and women who are very unlikeable that people are desperate to have like them: “I don’t like you, but I want you to like me.” What’s that about?
It’s about power. It’s almost always a situation where the unlikable person has a lot of power and others want the benefit of some of that power. They want to stand under the power person’s umbrella. I get it. Finding shelter in a shitstorm. But then your life is the shitstorm of desperately trying to get someone you dislike to like you. Pretty much the definition of a crap job.
And guaranteed to be unrewarding. You don’t like him because of the degree he’s into power. Do you want to spend your life with people whose motto is It’s better to be feared than loved?
The hell with that, I say.
Our book, Why Couples Fight, is for people who opt for loving and liking and creating self-sustaining relationships. And this can only happen when we get rid of the power moves which make us dislike one another so much.