How can we understand others better?

Can you really understand someone in terms of what she’s feeling, what behaviours she may adopt or what perceptions of the world she might have? To push the limits of human empathy, it may be helpful to consciously ignore everything you think you know about yourself and the ones around you and get curious again.

If we could all do that, the world would be a place where people lived in harmony, understanding each other’s inner worlds.

In reality, it’s more challenging to understand another human being on a deeper level, even those close to us! You may think that the longer you’ve known someone, the more evidence you have collected about what kind of a person she is. The historical facts show that she is decent and reliable.

Moreover, with the help of your empathic skills, you can feel how she feels and together you feel as one. But when you disapprove of her behaviour and get disappointed, you may feel that there is a world apart between you and her. Two close people turn into strangers.

You may not be aware of the fact that the disagreement regarding a particular behaviour can be rooted in moral values, cultural beliefs and other social conditioning that we are raised with and affects what we like and how we perceive the world.

Therefore, if we truly want to understand others, we need to become aware of our personal conditioning. For example, in Western cultures, when someone dies, it can be considered disrespectful if the close family of the departed one are wearing other colour than black. In Asian cultures, people wear white at funerals, which symbolises passing into heaven.

Now, what would happen if at a Western funeral, the wife of the deceased man wore red? Probably the rest of the close family would stop talking to her.

Getting rid of our conditioning may be a mission close to impossible for some of us. It may require years of meditation and spiritual search, which is not everyone’s cup of tea.

Alternatively, we can try to understand other people needs and desires and how they change over time. We do have the empathic skills that can be practiced to ask the appropriate questions about what others like and how they see the world. Once we are informed in this respect, we can learn to accept them without any judgement.

Maybe the widow wanted to express through red the intensity of her love for her dead husband? Or that she will still love him beyond death?

Above all, what counts the most is to look beyond behaviour and feel the true nature of a person. If the widow has a truly compassionate and loving nature, which reflected in the relationships with the rest of the family, then maybe the family members will focus on her affection and be less judgemental about her red garment.

You may also like reading:

Why we should be careful about judging others

Why you owe to yourself to find your true self and what it implies

How can a family relationship continue after a big disappointment?

Our relatives can sometimes disappoint us. However, looking deeper into the disappointment can bring you closer to truth and may be a stepping stone to a more authentic relationships.


The first stage of disappointment

We are tempted to believe that others are the way we perceive them.

This can happen especially among the family; a strong bond with a family member can make you blind to see the true nature of the other one.

The numerous memories might give you the feeling you truly know the person. But the memories are essentially static while the person is continuously changing.

In my opinion, if you assume you know how the other one will behave, you are setting yourself up for a disillusionment. It will come a time when you are taken aback by a broken promise, a lie, or an unexpected behaviour – something that does not fit your image on him.

In your reality, he is pure and courageous. How could he possibly do so such a thing to you? Disappointment settles in, erodes the trust in the other person, and it leaves you confused about what kind of bond you’re having.

“The principles of living greatly include the capacity to face trouble with courage, disappointment with cheerfulness and trial with humility.” Thomas S. Monson

Daily conversations of shared intimacy, which used to be something to look forward to, turn into superficial dialogues. The mind becomes suspicious and doubts even what can be the truth.

If this relationship was only friendship, maybe it would have been easier to let it go. But when a blood tie is involved, things are different. All those vivid memories of the past when you two were there for each other, when life seemed to have more sense when you were together, can’t be simply deleted.

Yet, the bitterness of the present disappointment taints those memories.

What does the disappointment tell about the other one and the bond you’re having?

“If we will be quiet and ready enough, we shall find compensation in every disappointment.” Henry David Thoreau

After living with disappointment in your heart for some time, you may be enlightened to see that there is another truth about the other one, you and consequently the relationship. Questioning the motives for which he disappointed you helps to see a bigger slice of the truth than before.

If before you felt you were very connected, it’s time to reconsider the space you are ready to give in the relationship. You need space to heal after the disappointment. The other one needs space to sort out whatever is going on with him.

Whether you want to have an open confrontation before taking the space, that’s entirely up to you and how you feel about talking about a sensitive topic when the wound is still open.

But, silently taking some space can help to ponder in peace over your feelings towards the other one and how can the relationship continue.

The foundations of the relationship have been shaken up, it needs new grounds to be rebuilt on. The other one may not be perfect, but hey, you are not perfect either. You may not make the same mistakes as he did, but most likely you can make other mistakes.

There are two important aspects in rebuilding the foundations of the bond. The first is the willingness to give another chance to the other one to be trusted. The second aspect is the patience to endure the suspicions until the trust is back.

The bright side is that when your perception on the other one is closer to the truth, your relationship is ready to move to another level with more authenticity involved.


How Selfish Do You Think You Need to Be in a Marriage?

And they lived happily ever after. What a wonderful ending for childhood stories. I used to close the book with a smile full of anticipation and naiveté. After many years of taking the face value of these stories, I finally understood their deeper meaning.

Why did the princess and not the daughter of the witch win the heart of the prince?

Well, yes, everybody, especially children need to hear about happy endings. But if we take a closer look at the true nature of the character of the princess, she is the embodiment of kindness, altruism, and compassion. In exchange, the daughter of the witch is mean and selfish.

Passion and the initial love may change over time. As Mark Twain said in his Notebook 1894, “No man or woman really knows what perfect love is until they have been married a quarter of a century …”. Interests, needs, beliefs and physical appearance change. One aspect stays constant: the true nature of each one of us.

What helps to mitigate marital conflicts?

Research on Americans and Europeans shows that married people perceive themselves to be happier than single, divorced or separated people (Dalai Lama, The Art of Happiness, 10th Anniversary Edition: A Handbook for Living).

“I think that if one is seeking to build a truly satisfying relationship, the best way of bringing this about is to get to know the deeper nature of the person and relate to her or him at that level, instead of merely on the basis of superficial characteristics.” (Dalai Lama, The Art of Happiness, 10th Anniversary Edition: A Handbook for Living)


Maintaing a healthy and happy marriage is a journey of spiritual growth. As much as it is about discovering the deeper nature of our spouse, as Dalai Lama wisely pinpoints, it is about fighting the demons inside us. And the biggest demon is the selfishness which characterises each human being.

Being open to improve ourselves

A happy marriage is built on the willingness to destroy the selfishness, which is the cause of most of the conflicts. Instead of wasting the time on being angry and pointing our finger at the faults in our spouse, a constructive attitude is to remember that both we and our spouses want to be happy and don’t want to suffer.

The perfect love after a quarter of a century of marriage does not come by the grace of God. On the contrary, it requires patience and team work to discover the “deeper nature” of our partners. I am not an expert in happy marriages, but one thing I’ve learned so far is that living happily ever after means knowing how to turn the selfishness into altruism towards our spouses.