Is kindness important in our relationships? According to relationship psychologists, most people overvalue physical attraction, looks, and wealth in potential partners and undervalue kindness and agreeableness. But kindness can have one of the biggest impacts in a long-term relationship. In fact, kindness is one of the most important predictors of satisfaction and stability in marriage.
Being kind to your partner should be a no-brainer. But if you’ve ever been in a long-term relationship, you know how quickly kindness can evaporate just from the day-to-day friction of life. Add in financial stress, illness, work problems or family pressure and the one person you should be kind to turns into the person you dump on.
To help you focus on kindness in your relationship, we have compiled a list of five easy (but not always intuitive) ways to be a little kinder to your partner.
This first one is easy. Have you ever been on the couch mindlessly scrolling when your partner says, “Babe! Look at this!” The easiest, most kind thing you can do is stop scrolling, turn towards your partner, and engage. While it may seem like they are showing you a meme you saw a few days ago, they are making a request for emotional connection and attention.
The kindest way to respond is to actively engage. Engagement looks like paying attention, offering an opinion, and showing an active interest. Turning towards your partner (or really anyone in your life) is an act of kindness. It ensures the other person feels acknowledged, important and heard.
Life can get in the way. It’s easy to say something like, “Not now– I’m just reading something” or dismiss them with a canned response like, “Wow, neat.” However, actively engaging and turning towards your significant other when they make a request for connection is one of the most key indicators of whether or not a relationship will last.
In a study performed by psychologist John Gottman, he found that couples who stayed together turned towards their partners 87% of the time. Couples who had split six years later only turned towards their partner 33% of the time. His research with the love lab shows the powerful effect kindness has on a relationship.
Long lasting relationships cultivate warmth, trust and intimacy. The more comfortable couples are with each other physiologically, the more likely they are to have clear, honest and open communication and a fulfilling relationship. So how do couples create that environment? They do it with kind communication and loving language.
Have you ever set up a date night or made plans with your significant other only to have them show up late or miss it all together? A partner being late or bailing can trigger abandonment issues and feelings of rejection. It can make us feel unimportant. How a person chooses to respond can either nurture a relationship or destroy it.
Responding with anger and criticism can feel good in the moment. Saying something like, “You’re always late. You don’t care about me. What’s wrong with you?” makes it clear that you are hurt and angry. But blaming or being confrontational in a hostile or aggressive manner doesn’t create the culture of trust and intimacy that nurtures relationships.
On the other hand, responding with kindness is the glue that keeps couples together. As psychologist Julie Gottman explains, “Kindness doesn’t mean that we don’t express our anger, but the kindness informs how we choose to express the anger. You can throw spears at your partner. Or you can explain why you’re hurt and angry, and that’s the kinder path.” It doesn’t mean that a person never expresses anger. It means that, during a disagreement or disappointment, the language is clear and calm. Responding with kindness may sound like this instead: “I know you care about me and I understand that there were things outside of your control, but I still feel hurt that you didn’t show up on time.” Even though it’s harder to do, responding with kindness fosters healthy and long-lasting relationships.
We can think about kindness we are born with or as a muscle that can be strengthened. When kindness is reframed as something we can practice and learn, giving freely can become an experiment in generosity instead of a competition. As Tiyo Tashiro points out, “Kind partners don’t see relationships as a zero sum game. It’s not, ‘I’ll do something nice for you and then you will do something nice for me,’ Where they are always keeping score. Kind [partners] just give and trust that, over time, things are going to equal out.”
Giving freely means putting in the work to show your partner that you care. It can be as simple as making dinner, bringing them tea, writing them a letter or leaving a loving post-it note on the fridge. Getting your partner their favourite snack at the grocery store or adventuring into a new hobby together, especially one you may have been hesitant to try, such as dancing, making art, or taking a cooking class, can all be meaningful acts of kindness.
Giving one’s partner the benefit of the doubt is incredibly helpful to sustaining a relationship and based in kindness. One trait of long-lasting marriages and relationships is that both partners value generosity in understanding. For example, if one person forgets to turn the lights off and lock the doors before bed, their partner can choose to take it personally, “They never listen to me! They forget the smallest things even though we’ve talked about it a million times! They are purposefully trying to get a rise out of me!”
If, instead, they choose to give their partner the benefit of the doubt, their response changes from one of anger and irritation to one of understanding, “Oops! My partner forgot to lock the door and turn off the lights, maybe they got distracted by that work email or are being absent-minded because of all the stress they’re facing at work. Or maybe it just slipped their mind.” People in healthy relationships choose kindness over criticism. They look for reasons to celebrate and compliment their partner, rather than opportunities to fault and hurt them.
Taking part in celebrating a significant other’s good news and being your partner’s biggest fan can determine if a relationship was built to last or will quickly fall apart. Research revealed four different ways partners can potentially respond: passive destructive, active destructive, passive constructive and active constructive. For example, if one partner got a promotion, they might tell their spouse, “Guess what? I finally got the raise and promotion, even the corner office!”
A passive destructive response would ignore the event entirely and maybe even change the subject: “I saw my parents yesterday and they wanted me to tell you they say hi.”
An active destructive response would diminish the good news and quickly change the conversation to potential negatives: “I’m surprised, I guess no one else was eligible for it? Are you sure you can handle all the responsibilities associated with the role?”
A passive constructive response would acknowledge the good news but in a way that’s only half-hearted, such as saying, “That’s great” while continuing to watch TV. It’s clear they aren’t truly excited.
Lastly, an active constructive response is the most engaged. They would stop what they were doing and turn toward their partner to celebrate the news: “That’s amazing! Congrats! What is the job like? When do you start?” They would engage in a manner that shows they are invested and excited, they want to share in the celebration.
Active constructive responses are clearly the most kind. Being able to share in a partner’s joy is one of the key factors in determining whether or not a relationship will last. An earlier study conducted by the same researchers found that couples with active responses showed the highest rates of relationship quality and intimacy between partners.
This year, instead of flowers, practice the gift of kindness. Choosing kindness may be harder at first, but it is the gift that keeps on giving. The kinder we are to others, especially to the ones we love, the kinder they are too. Put some love into the world this Valentine’s Day by choosing kindness.
PS An easy SeeKindness way to be kind is to send your significant other a BisOO! Plus, this Valentine’s Day, you can get yours for free. Check out our LoveKindness Valentine’s Day event and spread the love.