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  • Kindness: One of the Most Important Things to Do if You Want a Healthy Relationship

    So much of what I teach in couples counseling is really stuff that most people learn at their mother’s knee.

    Unless you grow up in a totally dysfunctional environment which i know some people do, but for the most part, what did you learn at your mother’s knee when you were growing up?

    Be nice

    If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all

    [In the context of couples counseling, that means wait to talk to your partner when you’re upset until you can talk to them nicely, or at least control your negative emotion to some reasonable extent.]

    People love not having their feelings hurt.

    People like to feel heard and understood, when people speak respectfully and even warmly to them, and are basically open to their feelings and opinions.

    So much of this stuff about improving our intimate relationships is so basic. Yet somehow we get into an intimate relationship and we put our best foot forward at first, but over time we get more comfortable, and that too often equates to just expressing whatever we are thinking and feeling in the moment without any filter. That is, without giving any thought to how it will affect the other person, how they will hear it, whether this is the right time and the right way. We so easily end up speaking to the love of our life in ways we would never speak to a boss or a friend or even the person behind the counter at The Dollar Store. It’s really amazing, and really said, how that happens.

    So today I want to talk to you about kindness.

    We now have 40 years of research telling us that one of the most important things you need to do in order to have a healthy relationship is create an environment of kindness and appreciation.

    Seriously. I’m not kidding.

    Be nice.

    Not exactly like a mind-blowing revelation, is it? It seems like common sense, but we know that couples who are struggling miss up to 50% of the positive things their partner is doing in the relationship. 50%! No wonder it gets hard to be nice!

    You end up just not seeing a lot of the good things your partner is doing because there’s a lot of water under the bridge, a lot of hurt feelings, and you get to where you’re actually expecting your partner to ignore you, or hurt you. And when this is what you are looking and listening for, this is what you will see and hear.

    Couples in healthy relationships are looking for positive things, looking to catch their partner doing good things.

    It’s like they are always scanning the environment in the relationship, and looking for things to thank, admire, praise, and appreciate their partner for.

    Sometimes I tell couples this and one or the other will say, “Why should I thank my partner for doing things they should be doing anyway?”

    So there you have it.

    Do you see it?

    In this common question, we can see the abandonment of what we learned as toddlers, from “appreciate people and be kind,” to “why should I appreciate people and be kind.”

    But what your mom, coach, or Sunday school teacher taught you is still true! Be kind to people, appreciate them, show gratitude to them, even when the thing they just did is a thing they are “supposed” to do.

    Think of it this way:

    Thank people for the behaviors you want them to keep doing.

    My wife does laundry in our household. And I thank her regularly for doing it because it needs to be done, and I sure as heck don’t want to do it!

    People say, “We shouldn’t do things just for the praise.” Perhaps not, because, if you’ll permit me a little sarcasm, what kind of terrible world would this be if everybody went around thanking and appreciating everybody? Why, we’d have heaven on earth!

    People always have, and always will, need to feel appreciated.

    Why wouldn’t we be trying harder to appreciate our intimate partners, rather than making excuses not to?

    We would we not thank them more, appreciate them more, be more kind, loving, and encouraging, and more effusive with our praise, respect, and admiration for this person who has committed their life to us?

    Show me a relationship where partners appreciate each other deeply, and show it, and I’ll show you a relationship that it just feels better to be in.

    Because feeling appreciated feels good. Feeling unappreciated feels bad.

    Do you want your relationship to feel better than it does?

    Do you want to get past the low morale and negativity?

    Do you want to trust your partner more and feel more like they have your back?

    Then be their ally. Be their biggest cheerleader. Tell them what they are doing right, how much you appreciate that they picked the kids up from school when you had a headache, or that they had dinner on the table when you got home after a long day.

    And especially thank them, regularly, for the stuff you think they should be doing. That is, if you want them to keep doing it and to feel good about it.

    I’ll bet you do.

    View the YouTube video I did on this topic