Frontiers of Adulting: Kindness is a Muscle
Sometimes making a relationship last is as simple as being nice
Now, I don’t know about you, but when the words “Love is a Battlefield” come up in casual conversation (which they totally do because we’re all always talking about Pat Benatar, right?), I can’t help but take a moment to revel in its absolute truth. I’m not calling it war, but it is a battle.
You see, my relationships over the years really ran the gamut. There were very high high’s and extremely low low’s. There were moments when I hated myself and couldn’t understand why I was acting the way I was and still other moments where my inner therapist was giving me a figurative high-five for dealing with things so well.
Love makes us do and say stupid things…sometimes it’s not even love. Sometimes it’s lust. Sometimes it’s just insecurity and an innocent bystander…and at some point you might wake up one day and realize you’ve committed yourself to just one person. (Whether by marriage or the use of commitment-related titles like boyfriend, girlfriend, other half and so on.)
And though we’re brainwashed at an early age to think that people find love, fall into it and then live happily ever after, the truth is you find love, you fall into it, then you’re standing in it and have to figure out whether you think love is being knee-deep in the River Styx and you just have to survive or love is wading through an oasis in the middle of a quiet, palpable alone-ness…or somewhere in between. (Which is where I think most of us are.)
Let me start by saying that this particular post was sparked by this article I read in The Atlantic a long time ago. I found it so important to the future of my marriage at the time, I spent an entire drive home from somewhere reading it out loud to the hubs…and, you know what? It did change things…at least for a little while. (We probably both need to read it monthly as a healthy reminder…in fact, I suggest doing so if you have the memory of a goldfish like me.)
The article is full of great information and really interesting studies on how people react to each other in relationships. Being present, being aware of your partner, and also kindness. That’s big and that’s what I want to talk to you about.
I preface this by saying that I am, by my very nature, incredibly passive-aggressive in relationships. That’s my M.O. and I spent a lot of time in my 20’s being a complete and utter bitch. (Not to say that some of it wasn’t warranted, but my communication skills were horrendous.) Luckily, I realized somewhere along the way and have spent many years trying to course correct and take hold of my knee-jerk reactions to things. I mean, sure, I could spend the rest of my days slamming doors, letting out loud sighs and giving icy cold looks of disappointment that could destroy all living matter within a 10 foot radius of me, but that’s not fun for anyone.
Also, my husband didn’t really deserve to be treated that way. He was one of the first men I’d dated long term that didn’t rage, wasn’t passive-aggressive back, and was willing to listen to me if I spoke. (I’m sure there were others early on, but I must’ve ignored them because I didn’t find them challenging enough since I was a complete idiot back then…like anger and rage were a sign of passion— a stupid concept that I must’ve gleaned from reading and watchng too many dramatic things in high school and college.)
So, after a few years, I’ve been able to more or less control my weird outbursts. Sometimes I slip when I’m exhausted or suddenly feel like the husband should be able to read my mind and help me with things that I haven’t mentioned. (See also “Being a Martyr.”)
And now that I’ve gotten to that point, it’s time for phase 2. Exercising my kindness muscle more. You see, a lot of this has nothing to do with my husband as a person except for that I want to have a great marriage with him. Sure, relationships are hard work, but each individual really needs to focus on bettering themselves not only because it’s good for them, but also because it’s great for everyone around them. (This part can also be applied to children and friends as well.)
The thing is…I can be really mean. I’ve gotten so much better in the last 10 years, but I used to be downright dreadful in my romantic relationships. Even after a lot of thinking and processing emotions, I could still drop a one liner that could annihilate a romance in seconds.
There was a time when I would blame it on all sorts of psychological things from my life that I don’t care to share, but I’m an adult now. It’s on me to be kind.
It was maybe 5 years ago or so that I started having anxiety attacks which led to lots of searching inside myself, rehashing issues, coming to terms with insecurities, and allowing myself to be completely vulnerable and honest with myself (which was excruciating because I’m sadly pretty proud by nature.) Long story short, I decided to exercise kindness.
I didn’t want to hate who I was when things got ugly; when I got insecure or sad…because often times if I’m sad, I’ll just hide it with aloofness because I learned somewhere that being sad is being weak. I had to change my perspective on everything. I had to re-learn emotions and how I perceived them…and here’s what I learned so far…
Being Honest About Your Emotions Shows Incredible Strength
…because most of us were taught the complete opposite at some point…also, allowing yourself to be vulnerable is basically the emotional equivalent to walking through a tunnel of fire naked…and that takes a lot of guts.
If the person you’re with takes a jab at you when you’re naked in a tunnel of fire, you may want to reconsider your relationship.
You Are You. Other People Are Other People.
Nobody is a mindreader. Do you really want the trash to be taken out and you’re fed up with always being the one to do it? Instead of staring at the trash can and huffing or trying to will your other half to get up and take it out, why not ask? They probably had no idea it was full.
Also, don’t be a jerk about it. I usually just ask for a favor and then shower the husband with lots of positive reinforcement. Now, he takes out the garbage sometimes when I’m not paying attention and it fills me with all kinds of warm feelings when I discover a fresh trash bag in the can.
Appreciate the Intention
This one is MASSIVE. You need to think about what a person was planning for you, no matter what the outcome. You can’t get mad at someone for being stuck in loads of traffic and being late after they made a dinner reservation so you could have date night.
I assure you, your beloved wasn’t thinking “oh, I can’t wait to sit in traffic and disappoint you! It’s gonna be so awesome.”
Don’t Do Things with Expectations
…because you‘re in for a world of disappointment. Love is not about a running tally. You shouldn’t be doing things so that you can get that same thing in return. (For instance, the hubs is a great foot rubber and I’m a great card writer. I am not a foot rubbing kind of person and the husband only wrote me one card once because I asked if he would…mostly because he doesn’t have faith in his own writing skills which is ridiculous, but I respect that.)
Do things because you want to do them for someone. You should get joy out of the action of giving. Do not give to receive.
Say “Thank You” A Lot
Positive reinforcement is important for all of us. It’s just how we’re built. If I know I’m bringing the husband joy, I will make that action a habit. (Random dancing is one of those things that’s become something that happens several times a week just because I really love seeing him laugh.) He may not have actually said “thank you,” but him being present with me and reacting the way he does is thanks enough.
Saying “thank you” is incredibly important…but “thank you” comes in many forms. From kisses on cheeks, to big bear hugs, to laughter, smiles, high-fives. It’s the act of being there and letting your significant other know “hey, I see you and I really appreciate that.”
Apologizing Doesn’t Mean You’re Wrong
Admit it. You hate being wrong. I don’t know anyone who likes it…which is why I feel like a lot of people don’t apologize during disagreements or discussions.
Here’s the thing though. Just because you apologize in a situation doesn’t mean you’re wrong. Sometimes you want to apologize because you’re acting like a complete jerk or you didn’t respect your other half like you should have…it’s not about the right or wrong of the subject at hand.
You can totally agree to disagree…but one thing you can probably both agree on is that disrespecting your other half warrants an apology. It also shows the person that you’re self-aware and not a complete sociopath. That’s important.
Finally, Kindess is a Muscle
The more you exercise it, the stronger it will become and the more you’ll use it. There’s often an uptick in trust, honesty, and affection that comes with just being kind. I know it might seem unnatural at first, but once you and yours realize that the other person is being kind to be kind and it isn’t some sort of trap (because who isn’t suspicious of sudden kindness), you’ll be on the road to growing closer, communicating better, and being happier overall.
By no means have I become a master of any of the above, but these are things I strive for every day.
But, seriously, if you’re feeling particularly negative or stressed and it might seem like it’s affecting your relationship with your loved ones, just give this a read as a friendly reminder.
…and also read that Atlantic article out loud to your loved one some time and see what happens.