As I write this, Congress is struggling with whether to accept a new Supreme Court justice. It’s an important issue, because his judgement, and that of the other justices, will affect our lives for years to come. But there’s a kind of judgement that impacts each of our lives in a much more intimate and subtle way. The judgements we have about ourselves and others, and those we use to select a mate. 

In my therapy practice, I witness a lot of confusion about the proper role of judgement in life and relationships. Often, when I ask clients to analyze whether a person they’re dating has good character, they tell me they don’t want to be judgmental. People in twelve step programs say they don’t want to “take the other person’s inventory.” But being judgmental (that is, critical of what others do, what they weigh, how they dress, their education, financial status or ethnic background) is not the same as having judgement or discernment about the character of people who are about to become deeply involved in your life.

Far too many of the relationship disasters that cause clients to come and see me are caused by poor judgement about people. Somehow, clients seem to have taken way too seriously the idea that we aren’t supposed to think badly of people. Instead of using good judgement about whether to allow someone in their lives, they make excuses and feel responsible. Recently, I was talking to a lovely young lady whose boyfriend has been brutal to her, and is now in prison. She would like to move on, but she feels guilty because “he has no one to take care of him.” A male client has been enduring bad behavior and temper tantrums on the part of his lady friend for years, and still wonders if he can make the relationship work. These cases, and many more like them, require more realistic thinking, evaluation, and yes, judgment, of whether the other person is a good candidate as a partner for building a life and a relationship.                                   

If you want to do rescue work, get a license as a nurse, social worker, emergency medical technician or volunteer to help those who need it. If you do, you’ll find out that these workers are compassionate, yes, but also tough. They see exactly what they’re dealing with, and they do what’s necessary to really help, not to prolong the problem, or bring them into their personal lives. They, too have to use judgement.

Love  has a much better chance to be realized if you make some of your  choices mentally, as well as by emotional attachment and chemistry. Choose commitments both with the "parent" or judgmental, evaluating, critical thinking method; and the "child" or romantic, turned on, chemistry method.  I call this choosing from the neck up,  as well as from the neck down. You’ll use better judgment if you think of matchmaking for yourself. You can think like a matchmaker (or a hard- to-please  parent), when considering commitment. The Mirriam -Webster Online Dictionary defines judgment as “the process of forming an opinion or evaluation by discerning and comparing.” Take time  out  from  your  excitement and evaluate your  match, using the components of judgement: think, observe, evaluate, ask, remember, experiment, speculate and empathize.

• Make sure you’re thinking and not just feeling—don’t let your emotions overrule your careful consideration of whether this is working. 

• Observe the other person, how you are together, what’s working, what’s not. Pay attention! You’re deciding your future happiness, and you have to gather the facts to make the decision. 

• Ask questions out loud, don’t just guess at your partner’s motivation and feelings. The two of you need to be able to discuss your thoughts, feelings, and ideas about the relationship and the partnership decisions you’ll be making.  Both of you must be able to listen to each other, and not just react.

• Take some time to evaluate what’s happening in the relationship, does it feel like you’re creating a good future together? 

• Remember what’s happened, the good and the bad—don’t gloss over abuse, irresponsible behavior or disrespect. If you think any of those are happening, you must discuss it, and if it doesn’t change, it’s time to leave.  Remembering the good things will help you have a balanced idea of the overall value of the relationship.

• Experiment with problem-solving, working through situations where you disagree, trying new things you haven’t done together.

• Speculate, by yourself and together, about how you’d handle some of the situations you’ll face in the future, such as child rearing, finances, illness, big job changes. 

• Empathize by putting yourself in the other person’s shoes, not just to make excuses, but to really understand what may be going on.

Selecting a partner who is really capable of loving and being responsible in the relationship is more than half the battle. Choosing an immature, irresponsible partner may mean that, no matter what you do, the relationship won’t work. Using judgment, rather than being judgmental, and thinking with your head and not just your heart will help you make a good choice of partner—and there’s nothing more fulfilling than a life of successful partnership and cooperation.

(Adapted from It Ends With You - New Page Books) © 2006 Tina B. Tessina

Author Bio:

Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D. is a licensed psychotherapist in S. California, with over 25 years experience in counseling individuals and couples and author of 11 books, including It Ends With You: Grow Up and Out of Dysfunction (New Page); How to Be a Couple and Still Be Free  (New Page); The Unofficial Guide to Dating Again (Wiley)  and The Real 13th Step: Discovering Self-Confidence, Self-Reliance and Independence Beyond the Twelve Step Programs (New Page.)  She publishes the “Happiness Tips from Tina” e-mail newsletter and has hosted "The Psyche Deli: delectable tidbits for the  subconscious" a weekly hour long radio show. She is an online expert, answering relationship questions at and Yahoo!Personals, as well as a Redbook Institute expert and “Psychology Smarts” columnist for First for Women. Dr. Tessina guests frequently on radio, and on such TV shows as “Oprah”, “Larry King Live” and ABC news.

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All material copyright ©2017 Tina Tessina. All rights reserved.