“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” ~Aesop
Love is kind. That’s how the Bible talks about it the famous love chapter of 1 Corinthians 13.
Or in the words of a popular Tim McGraw song, “Always be humble and kind.”
Sounds simple enough, but it’s surprisingly easy to let a pattern of unkindness seep into your marriage. Little annoyances become big ones over time. Unmet needs cause resentment and bitterness to settle in. Even if unkindness doesn’t characterize your marriage, would you and your spouse specifically describe each other as kind?
I’m not sure I have always appreciated the power of kindness to change the culture of my marriage. I used to be a lot more focused on myself, my circumstances and what I was getting from my wife. My self-focus ultimately affected the amount of kindness I expressed.
When things were going well and I was happy, kindness came pretty easily. But if I was stressed or not feeling like my wife was doing all the things I thought she should do, I could easily turn inward and selfish and let my “pricklies” come out. I think I treated kindness like a kind of reward. If I felt kindly, then fine, I’d be kind. If not, then frankly, I could be pretty unpleasant.
Over the years, however, I’ve discovered that the amazing thing about kindness is that it is not all that difficult or costly. Regardless of whether I’m “feeling it” or not, all it takes is a little bit of awareness and intentionality.
Show a Little Kindness
Kindness doesn’t need to come in the form of grand gestures. Here are a few small, simple ways to show kindness to your spouse.
Smile – Even after more than 35 years of marriage, my wife’s smile still melts me to the core. Fortunately, she smiles easily and often. There is a look in her eyes when she smiles at me with kindness and love that warms my heart. Your smile can do the same for your spouse.
Touch – Touch ranks high on my love language list. Same for my wife. But even if your primary love language doesn’t include physical touch, it’s still a powerful act of kindness. Sit close together, knees and thighs touching. Hold hands while you walk. Lightly touch your spouse’s arm, or run your fingers through the hair on his or her neck. Give a gentle back or neck massage. Physical touch causes our brains to release oxytocin, a powerful bonding hormone. Even the simple act of reaching across to touch one another in some way speaks volumes.
Encourage – When kindness is lacking in your marriage, words of encouragement can go a long way to cause a shift. Text your spouse short bits of encouragement throughout the day. “I love you.” “I’m praying for you.” “Thanks for last night [wink emoji].” Make a phone call just to check in and say you were thinking about your spouse. Put a post-it note on your spouse’s mirror with a kind thought, a word of appreciation or an encouraging scripture verse.
Shift Your Tone – Research suggests that more information is received by how you say something than by the words you use. Sure, words are important but your tone probably does more to convey kindness (or the opposite) than you realize. I know when I’m tired or stressed, I sometimes have an edginess to my tone that can convey things I don’t intend to my wife. It’s at these times I have to be more aware of how I’m speaking. It helps to watch your spouse’s reaction to what you say in order to detect that you’ve sent unintended meaning by your tone or words. Be willing to admit it and quickly make it right.
Grace – Our natural reaction to unkindness (intentional or not) is to react with unkindness in return. After all, we feel justified. The problem is that this only ups the ante in the discord and causes an escalation in the conflict, inviting more unkindness. But when we react with grace and forgiveness, it will de-escalate the conflict and inject positive direction in the conversation. As I often say, grace is an invitation to intimacy. I’m not suggesting you allow your spouse to walk all over you, but I’ve observed that a lot of the unkindness in marriage is unintentional, so start with that assumption.
The Culture-Shifting Power of Kindness
Here’s the coolest thing of all about kindness: when I’m in a funk over something, being kind toward my wife actually helps to lift me out of it. Yes, intentional kindness actually changes my heart and the atmosphere of our home in ways that help create a culture of kindness.
Further, when I’m in a bad place for whatever reason and my wife extends kindness to me in the face of my prickliness, it melts off those prickles.
As you each learn to fill your relationship with kindness, small and large, the entire culture of your marriage will move in a positive direction.
What other simple ways have you and your spouse found to show kindness to each other? Leave a comment and share your ideas.
In case you missed it, Part 1 in this Culture Change series is about the power of Affirmation.