Love and kindness go together. They really do. In my 20 years as a counselor, I’ve been astounded at how many people say and do the most unkind things in the name of love. In fact, it’s a fair statement to say that I’ve heard many stories about people who do some of the meanest things to the very ones they claim to love. It seems incredibly unfair to me. I often feel the urge to get up on my soapbox and proclaim my admonishments. But then I pause a moment and realize I’ve been guilty of being unkind in my own relationships…more times than I care to admit.
The older I get, the more keenly I’m aware of the ubiquitous strangeness of life. More specifically, the strangeness of relationships. They’re hard, they’re messy, they aren’t bulletproof, and sometimes they crash and burn.
There isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ for everybody. There are plenty of theories and thoughts and relationship skills that have proven beneficial to the health and understanding of our most intimate relationships, yet our propensity toward dysfunction and meanness continues to grow.
Remember the Love in Your Heart
I’ve observed parents ‘rip’ into their own children with harsh words and verbal assaults. I’ve seen spouses and partners engage in character assassinations that rival the ugliest of ugly. These are the same parents who yearned for this very child. These are the same spouses who stood in front of the priest or justice of the peace to pledge their love, and I guarantee at that moment they weren’t thinking, “I can’t stand this person.” No, every spouse looks forward with eager anticipation to life being better because they get to share it with the person they’ve chosen, out of all others, to be their partner.
But, inevitably, life gets in the way. Truthfully, we get in our own way more than life does. We trip ourselves up when we forget that our spouse/partner and our children do not exist for us. They’re not here to do things the way we want them done or how we want them done or when we want them done. Whoever said we usually get our way? So sometimes (oftentimes) we end up drifting over into the lane where we think more about ourselves than the ones we love.
We also get too tired and too stressed. We’re often stretched so thin it’s hard to think reasonably. We can lose ourselves in resentments and scorekeeping, in bitterness, and in repeating unhealthy patterns. We can be really selfish.
Preserve and Grow the Love
So maybe, we can do better at preserving and growing the sweetness and beauty of the love we have for our spouse/partner and family. Love and kindness need to keep growing together. Maybe we need to focus on communicating in ways that demonstrate kindness, courtesy, and respect. You know, show that we care for the heart of the ones we love more than getting our point across. Even when conflict is unavoidable, it’s quite possible to be angry and still be kind. We can be firm without being ugly or mean. We can watch our body language and tone, leave out the accusations and judgments, and keep our voice level down. Preface a conflict with, “I want you to know that I love you, but I’m pretty upset. Can we talk for a few minutes?”
Love With Kindness
Look, all relationships have really hard times. We all struggle with selfishness. It’s part of being human. I was in Target a couple of days ago and I’d stepped over to the side to lean on my cart. My kids and grandkids were picking up a few things we needed for dinner that night. I stood by and observed the people in the store, watching their faces and how they moved. It struck me that we’re all really just trying to do our best. Some days we knock it out of the park and some days we’re barely able to take a swing! But each day we can try with kindness as our focus. I’m pretty sure it would change some stuff, starting with us.
I mentioned earlier that I’ve been guilty of being less than kind to my people more times than I care to remember. I hate that. And I wish I could say it only happens every ten years or so, but I can’t. Even though I’m more aware of what my buttons are and how to keep them from getting pushed, they still get pushed on occasion, and I usually regret my response. My point may be fair, but the way I get my point across when my words are dripping with sarcasm, or my voice is a little too loud, or my language is harsh and demeaning is not always kind. When I forget about putting love and kindness together, I never feel good about myself afterwards. And the truth is, even at my maddest, I still love my people, my crazy messed-up people. That’s one of the reasons we fit together…we get each other’s crazy.
For further reading on love and kindness, check out www.bobgoff.com. Also, be sure to look here for tips on practical ways to practice kindness in relationships.