Cups of tea or something more? What is the kindness that a relationship needs?
The ‘New Year New You article’ I took on board the most this January was in the Guardian – 52 kind things to do in 2023. Everything from learning how to rescue a struggling bee to offering a delivery driver the use of the loo. It has stayed with me (so far have ticked a few off the list, no bees in need of rescue yet though).
It inspired me to think about this as a theme for our relationships. If you’ve read any of my writing before you’ll know I’m fascinated by the everyday, the little things in our relationships, the conflicts about the washing up or the dishwasher or the shoes left on the floor. In my book Five Arguments All Couples (Need To) Have And Why The Washing Up Matters I look at what these arguments about the everyday can reveal and why they are so important to tend to.
What has all this got to do with kindness? Well, I think we all have individual and unique ideas deep down, depending on how we were brought up, depending on our experiences of the world and people, and we bring these to the everyday stuff. If one person sees their partner reloading the dishwasher, and experiences it as an attack, perhaps this says something about their sense of themselves in the world and their fear about being disrespected. This can baffle a partner who simply feels they are doing something useful by making extra space in the dishwasher or by improving some chaotic loading. Where kindness comes into this daily stuff, is where a couple can feel that their relationship is a kind place in which there is enough room to reflect on two people having very different ideas about the same thing. So often in couple therapy what we are doing is creating a space to map out these different ideas about the same thing. Couples speak of a more compassionate approach to themselves. Not just to one or the other but to their whole state of being, where their curiosity about ‘why did we just row about that?’ gives them a bit more room to kindly reflect on their own differences.
It’s also kind to the relationship to make space after a disagreement in the couple to wonder what it was about and what both people felt about it.
There are hundreds of kind things people can do in a relationship for each other and to be thoughtful to each other. Not leaving shoes around when you know it annoys your partner, making each other cups of tea, trying to remember to put your plate in the dishwasher. These are the gripes of everyday life and it can baffle people when their partners can’t remember to do the things they asked them to do or which they told them meant a lot to them. It can feel unkind when they don’t remember these things.
But what’s really important, and what’s really kind and compassionate to the relationship, is to make space to engage with these issues that can leave one person feeling their partner has been unkind. To talk about what these sorts of things mean to each other. To acknowledge the feelings of one’s partner when they are upset that something that was important to them didn’t appear important to their partner, rather than tell their partner that they are wrong to have that feeling in the first place.
So, this isn’t 52 ways to be kind this year – it’s just one. Imagine your relationship is a room in which you both have a bit of space to explain what you feel about something, however small, and where you can both acknowledge how the other one feels, even if you don’t agree with it. In doing so the everyday concrete stuff that seems boring and week in/week out can actually become a place where couples can feel more connected to each other and more understanding of each other.