. . . to great relationships.
“Triumphed again my darling!” exclaimed my uncle as my aunt produced yet another burnt offering. Cooking was not her forte but she was taking lessons and insisted on trying out new things before she was quite ready.
My uncle was a kind man. He never resorted to sarcasm. He never gave her anything other than glowing feedback. He adored her culinary triumphs and made light of her kitchen disasters. He exuded an air of “Aren’t I lucky to be sharing my life with this woman!”
I think they were the most joyful couple I’ve ever known and staying with them was deeply restorative.
Were they “perfect?”
Of course not!
They came from very different backgrounds; had different interests; enjoyed different music; had different appetites for socializing; he was a quiet private man, she was an extrovert; they could rub one another the wrong way as much as any couple.
But they were (almost) always kind to one another.
They were my first role models for the power of kindness in creating great long-term relationships.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Sometimes living together gets tough. You have issues. You want to fix something. You work hard.
And yet, after all the ~
- counting to ten before you speak;
- concentrated listening;
- patient “So what you’re saying is . . . ” active reflecting;
- negotiating, and giving one another space, and problem-solving;
after you’ve cycled through your arsenal of relationship skills in the effort to both understand and grow closer to the person you love (or thought you loved) ~
you may still be mystified by your partner.
You may still feel exasperated, irritated, disappointed, exhausted, frustrated, righteous.
So then what?
This person whom you’ve committed to spending the rest of your life with may still;
- Loose their car keys every day;
- Finish your story;
- Overcook the fish;
- Forget your birthday;
- Channel surf;
- Grunt at you over morning coffee.
Nothing you’ve said or done or negotiated has worked and there is this issue, this “pebble in your shoe” (as the Mexicans say) which threatens to undermine your whole marathon.
It’s hardly a crime against humanity. It can’t possibly be grounds for divorce:
“Your Honor I’m done. He burns the fish!”
But, dammit, there’s this issue that bugs you. Whether you’re the partner who looses track of fish cooking times and hates that this matters, or you’re the partner who hates that fish gets burnt, you are aware that over the long haul this issue could get old. And potentially deadly because the truth is, it often IS the little things that make or break a marriage.
Here’s why you might want to try kindness.
Every interaction between you and your partner does one of three things.
- It brings you closer.
- It maintains the status quo.
- It pushes you apart.
Happy couples enjoy a ratio of five positive interactions for every one negative one. Their arousal and fear mechanisms are not triggered. They feel safe with one another. They can relax. This feels good. It IS good. Their emotional landscape creates their biological reality. Happy couples literally live longer .
On the other hand, unhappy couples have more negative interactions than positive ones. These negative experiences trigger the body’s arousal and fear mechanisms. They feel less and less safe with one another. They can’t relax. This feels bad. It IS bad. Indeed, emotional toxicity undermines the immune system. There is growing evidence that bad relationships contribute to bad health. which is why Happy couples literally live longer .
Here’s how to try kindness. .
- So – how to get this 5:1 ratio of good to bad interactions?
- What does this look like in real life?
- What’s an example of a “good” interaction versus a “bad” interaction?
It’s not what you think!
Sure the “bad” list includes what you’d expect:
- Physical, verbal or sexual abuse
[By the way, these last 4 in italics have been identified by John Gottman as The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse because they do so much harm. If you are interested I’ve embedded a short video from Gottman’s website . These are the poster children for Not Kindness!]
But the “bad” list also includes some seemingly “normal” responses to the irritating scenarios above. In other words, you may be unwittingly triggering a negative response in your partner through these small daily interactions that add up to no good.
Here are three responses to a chronic lost-key scenario. Which would you prefer if you were the key looser?
- You see your partner roll their eyes, sigh, check their watch and drift off leaving you alone to find the keys.
- Your partner notices you are key hunting and says in a neutral tone, “Oh, you’ve lost the keys?”
- Your partner comes to you a few minutes before it’s time to leave and cheerily says: “So, are we on a key hunt this morning, or have you rounded up those bad boys already?”
Personally I’d choose door number 3. There’s a playfulness, lightness, acceptance of the probability of a key-hunt and the use of “we” not “you.”
Option #1 is most likely to be experienced as negative. Eye rolling is a form of contempt.
Option #2 is most likely to be experienced as neutral. No one is angry or contemptuous. But there’s not a whole heap of warmth either.
Option #3 is most likely to be experienced as positive. It’s a kind response. The sort of thing good friends do for one another.
Is that so hard?
What does it take to help move a person from irritation to kind acceptance?
I’ll come back to this question over this month of July because it’s a great one, but for starters here’s how I’d answer that question.
Moving to kindness needs two things:
1. It’s a conscious decision to exercise your inner capacity to be kind.
2. Your inner capacity to be kind is like a muscle – it is weak when not used, and needs to be exercised to be effective.
So meanwhile – try it out! Catch yourself in one of your typical moments of exasperation and think through what a kind response might look like. Then try it. I’d love to know what you notice!
More next week.
FIRST TIME HERE?
This is the latest article in a year-long series on the “12-most-important-relationship-skills-no-one-ever-taught-me-in-school-but-I-sure-wish-they-had.”
If you’re interested in reading this blog in sequence, below are links to the series to date, beginning with the first posting at the top.
SKILLS FOR UNDERSTANDING
SKILL ONE ~ Recognize (and get to know) the many “yous.”
SKILL TWO ~ Learn how to be pro-active: choose how y’all show up.
- Report The News – Don’t Act it Out
- Happy Families
- Self Leadership
- When Does A Relationship Need Help?
SKILL THREE ~ Accept (and get curious about) other peoples’ complexity
- 5 Non verbal Cues You Need To Know
- How To Change Someone Else
- 2 Magic Ratios for Great relationships
- Is Understanding Overrated?
SKILLS FOR CONNECTING
SKILL FOUR ~ Master the Art of Conversation
- Five Conversations
- How To Never Be Boring
- The 5 Principles For Great Conversation
- The 7 Deadliest Fights & How To Fight Fair
SKILL FIVE ~ Learn How To Listen With Your Whole Self
- 5 Ways To Be A Better Listener
- Listening To Yourself
- Who’s Listening
- Beyond Emotion Coaching – Listening For Your Child’s Needs
SKILL SIX ~ Crack The Empathy Nut
- Thriving Through Tough Times
- Teaching Empathy to Adults
- Teaching Empathy to Children
- Living Empathically
SKILL SEVEN ~ Practice Kindness
- Kindness Is Key