If you’ve ever read a self-help relationship book, I can almost guarantee that you’ve heard about relationship skills.
I’m talking about communication and conflict resolution skills. These are often the crux of education programs that aim to improve relationships and the topics that fill the vast majority of research articles on relationship success and satisfaction.
I truly believe that relationship skills are important, I mean, how hard would it be to exist in a relationship with someone who was a terrible listener or someone who never opened up?
But there is a personality factor that is often overlooked that can make all the difference in your relationship—the conscience.
What is the conscience you ask? It actually is one of the five major personality characteristics identified in the most widely used personality inventory.
In our online relationship course, Head Meets Heart, we simplify the role of the conscience by reducing it down to two primary functions.
- The conscience monitors your thoughts and actions according to your moral code. In day-to-day talk, it is the small voice in your head that will give you a pat on the back or a kick in the butt.
- But the second is that it monitors behavior according to the feelings of others.
The word, conscientious, captures this aspect of how the conscience transports you into another person’s perspective, and makes you aware and concerned about how you are impacting someone else.
Sometimes we confuse relationship skills with the conscience. But this should help crystalize the difference between these two important relationship qualities.
Imagine that you must pick one of two partners—which one would you rather be with in a relationship: a person with great relationship skills and a poor conscience, or someone with poor skills and a great conscience?
Here’s the thing, someone who has great relationship skills, but a poor conscience can easily manipulate, persuading you to give second (or third or fourth) chances, and convincing you they’ve done nothing wrong when you are sure that they did.
On the other hand, someone with poor skills but a great conscience may be awkward, he/she may need a little help opening up or asking the right questions, but when their conscience is healthy, you can rest assured that he/she means well and that their intentions are good.
So here is the quick and dirty guide to figuring out the health of someone’s conscience.
1. DO THEY WALK THE TALK?
If you’ve ever been in a relationship with someone with a poor conscience you will have likely wondered things like: “Am I crazy… I didn’t think I was… but maybe I am?” “Did I make a big deal over nothing?” “Am I being dramatic?” I call this feeling the self-doubt crazies. You know, feeling like you are insecure in your relationship when usually, you’re not ever insecure.
This feeling often comes about because you’re in a relationship with a guy that is incongruent, meaning their words and behaviors don’t add up. It’s maddening.
So look for consistency between how he/she talks and acts. Do they follow through with their word, and does he/she seem to live out how they represent themselves and what they say they believe? This is a really good indicator of how you’re your partner’s conscience is functioning.
2. SMALL INSTANCES REVEAL MAJOR PATTERNS.
Figuring out the conscience becomes tricky when the offenses are so small that they are easy to rationalize away, like they are exceptions and not the rule.
Pay attention to things like:
- How does your partner apologize when wrong?
- Does he/she remember special occasions?
- Do they think (and inquire) about you and how you’re feeling?
- Does your partner expect to get more than they give?
- Do they initiate meeting your needs?
Often when there’s been a lapse in conscientiousness you will feel hurt, frustrated, overlooked or invisible.
So pay attention to these small examples and make mental notes (or literal notes) because, over time, a pattern of small offenses will add up to reveal the true health of your partner’s conscience.
SO, HERE’S THE TAKEAWAY…
Relationship skills are important, but make sure you understand the conscience and how it is implementing these relationship skills.
If your partner has poor skills but a great conscience, they are probably a decent partner that is worth giving a little more time and direction.
If you find yourself in a relationship with a skilled partner with a poor conscience, your best bet would be to move on.
And if you just can’t tell, then take some time and really pay attention to the small examples of their conscience until you discover a pattern of consistency.