Kindness is one of the most simple ways to strengthen your marriage and to grow in love; and yet I believe kindness is one of the most under-estimated aspects in creating a healthy marriage and strong bonds of intimacy.
In my post How to Improve Your Marriage without Therapy, I outline 5 simple things you can do to improve your marriage from the comfort of your own home.
The first practice I talk about is John Gottman’s 5:1 ratio. According to Gottman’s research, partners who share 5 positive interactions for every one negative interaction fare better over time. As an example of this, I want to share a little of my own life and marriage and how much a difference this has made for me.
A little personal disclosure here… this summer held some major transitions in my life. Times of transition are opportunities for growth, healing, and new understandings. Like the lotus flower, blooming from the depths of the mud, life’s challenges help us to bloom to our fullest and most beautiful potential.
I wanted to make the most of the transitions and my experiences, and so like any aware therapist, I went back into therapy myself to address these transitions in the most auspicious way possible.
Tara Brach says:
“The Lotus Land is the cherished place of awakening that is always here in the present moment. When we meet life with our whole body, we are the Buddha—the awakened one—beholding the changing steam of sensations, feelings and thoughts. Everything is alive, the whole world lives inside us. As we let life live through us, we experience the boundless openness of our true nature.”
Wanting to let life live through me as fully as possible and to learn as much as I could, I sought a deeper understanding of my own experiences from a seasoned, Jungian analyst. She had me start paying more attention to my dreams, as any good Jungian would do. She recommended that I start a dream journal.
My husband encouraged, supported, and was interested in my experience with my new analyst. And I shared with him that I will be paying more attention to my dreams.
One night I woke up after having a disturbing dream, and I got out of bed and wrote about it in my journal. Upon getting back into bed, my husband comforted me from the disturbing dream and asked, “Did you write about it?”
Now, to you reader, that may not seem like a significant interaction at all. But I use this example to highlight how a simple, positive interaction can hold so much.
In this one interaction, my husband demonstrated care, interest, support, and awareness. All from listening to me and his desire to encourage me on my own life’s journey.
His question was simple yet powerful because it did so much to solidify our bond. I knew in his question that he had been listening to me, he wanted the best for me, and he was present in a meaningful way.
If we are awake to our life, to our marriage, and to our partner, we have multiple opportunities like this, to demonstrate support, care and awareness. Glimpses of moments in time offering chances to show up in a loving, compassionate and present way to each other.
The 5:1 ratio emphasizes how these simple and positive kinds of interactions, when they outweigh the negative interactions, strengthen a couple’s bond.
All too soon it becomes easy, and even habitual, to focus on the negatives. We get tired, cranky, take things for granted. We stop being intentional about how we treat our partner. We spend a lot of energy during our days being kind and patient with others. For some reason, we can easily forget to be kind and patient with the one who matters the most.
Long-term relationships have unique challenges. After years of being together, we can fall into assumptions, thinking we already know all there is to know about our partner. This is another way we can create negative, stagnant types of interactions.
When we assume we know it all, we stop seeing our partner with loving, fresh eyes. Our heart becomes closed and we stop nurturing this human in front of us with whom we have chosen to share our life.
All too soon the negatives can begin to outweigh the positives. And our brain begins to be focused on the negatives and of course, we then find even more. All the more reason to practice intention and awareness in the way we interact, respond and treat our partner.
Staying aware and curious helps us to not make assumptions but rather to stay engaged in a positive way. When we are intentional about being kind and positive, we remember to show up in our best way possible even during times of conflict. We remember that how we handle our emotions, our stress, and our differences can either strengthen our intimacy or come between us and weaken our bond.
Check in with yourself. Do you fall in the range of, at least, 5 positives for every 1 negative response you contribute to your intimate relationship? Are you aware of how you show up not only when you are relaxed and happy, but also when you are stressed, not feeling well, or tired?
You can start today to practice kindness. See your partner with fresh eyes. Be aware of how they are expressing their love for you. Be aware of their vulnerability and their efforts.
It only takes a brief glimpse of time to plant the seeds of positive, loving interactions. And when you do so, you are nurturing your love, your life, and your marriage in the most kind, auspicious way possible.