Masters of Love (The Atlantic, June 2014)
“There are two ways to think about kindness. You can think about it as a fixed trait: either you have it or you don’t. Or you could think of kindness as a muscle. In some people, that muscle is naturally stronger than in others, but it can grow stronger in everyone with exercise. Masters tend to think about kindness as a muscle. They know that they have to exercise it to keep it in shape. They know, in other words, that a good relationship requires sustained hard work.
‘If your partner expresses a need,’ explained Julie Gottman, ‘and you are tired, stressed, or distracted, then the generous spirit comes in when a partner makes a bid, and you still turn toward your partner.’ In that moment, the easy response may be to turn away from your partner and focus on your iPad or your book or the television, to mumble ‘Uh huh’ and move on with your life, but neglecting small moments of emotional connection will slowly wear away at your relationship. Neglect creates distance between partners and breeds resentment in the one who is being ignored.
The hardest time to practice kindness is, of course, during a fight—but this is also the most important time to be kind. Letting contempt and aggression spiral out of control during a conflict can inflict irrevocable damage on a relationship.”
So many takeaways from this article. I think the most important lesson here is to keep trying. If you care enough to try to be kind, you’re already doing something right.
[Interested in reading more? Check out The Generous Marriage, an excellent article from 2011.]