A Little Happier: The Right Thing to Say When Someone Says, “Whom Do You Love More?”

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As I mentioned many times—perhaps too many times?—I get a tremendous intellectual and emotional satisfaction when I hear someone give exactly the right answer to a difficult question. It makes me so happy. And here’s one of my favorite examples.

The parenting book that I most often recommend is Faber and Mazlish’s masterpiece How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk. One thing I admire about the book is that what they observe and suggest for talking to children applies just as well to adults.

The same thing is true for another book by Faber and Mazlish, which I also love, called Siblings Without Rivalry: How to Help Your Children Live Together So You Can Live Too. In a thought-provoking chapter called “Equal Is Less,” they talk about how to deal with a child who says, “You love Pat more than me!”

The authors point out that the answer “I love you both equally” isn’t satisfying. They write, “To be loved equally is somehow to be loved less. To be loved uniquely—for one’s own special self—is to be loved as much as we need to be loved.”

This idea is a little hard to understand, and they tell a story to give an example from the adult context. When a wife turned to her husband and said, “Whom do you love more? Your mother or me?” she didn’t want to hear him say, “I love you both the same.” Instead he said, “My mother is my mother. You’re the fascinating, sexy woman I want to spend the rest of my life with.” Good answer!

I love this story, because this is exactly the right thing to say. We don’t want to be loved the same, we want to be loved in a way that’s just for us.

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