What is the essential ingredient to a relationship that keeps us content and happy? It isn’t something exotic or unusual or hard to identify. I believe the most important human quality necessary to sustain a relationship is KINDNESS; the ability to feel and express empathy to another person, to care about their feelings. This is a critical ingredient to search for and require in a friend or in a partner. Of course being kind helps as well but unless you have chosen a person who is fully able to demonstrate kindness to you, I don’t think you will experience much security and happiness in your most important relationships.
I am certainly not implying that someone who is kind will never be irritable, unpleasant or unkind. While there are people with uncommonly stable temperaments who are rarely irritable or harsh, most of us are not so saintly and will have our bad moments. Even at our worst there should be limits, however. A snarl or angry tone is manageable. What we say does have consequences. We can’t take back cruel words that genuinely wound, insult,use name calling or labeling. These can be impossible to forget and overcome. Cruel and ugly words can cause permanent damage in a relationship. The effect is cumulative. Incidents that are rare can be managed, especially if there are mitigating circumstances such as illness, pain, a major loss or failure in another part of our life. A genuinely kindhearted person should be able to recognize when they have over-reacted, been too stressed or irritable and wounded your feelings. As I have discussed in previous writings, anger is normal and appropriate in relationships. We have every right to speak up when those we care about do something we don’t like but it needs to be done respectfully. The goal should be to improve the relationship, stop the offending behavior or negotiate a change that will work for both partners. Apologies work wonders when there is genuine care and concern, “I’m sorry I snapped at you…please forgive my outburst…I’m sorry I came on so strong.” A healthy relationship can survive the day to day stresses that cause us to not be at our best, especially when our partners can tell they have gone too far and upset us. Never neglect the power of a sincere and caring apology.
Kindness is care and consideration. Doing things without being asked that enhance the other person’s well being are always appreciated and keep the wheels of interaction well lubricated. It’s kind to recognize thoughtful behavior and be appreciative. Kindness is being aware when your partner is stressed and taking on extra duties at home when you see that your partner has more than they can handle emotionally. Being a good friend or mate is being aware of what is going in the other person’s life, remembering to ask about areas of concern, listening when the other person needs to think through a problem or idea. Of course there are limitless ways to demonstrate kindness and consideration. Look for them and be very cautious if you find yourself frequently making excuses for the other person’s thoughtless behavior.
As a psychologist I often hear people say comments such as, “I know he really loves me but he can’t show it”…”she’s a really good person, she’s just going through a hard time now”…”he’s really good inside, it’s just tough for him to express it.” I would argue that if it doesn’t really SHOW-regularly, consistently and often then it might as well not exist as it will not be of much benefit to you in your relationship. You will find yourself giving a great deal and not receiving enough in return. If you find yourself remaining involved in that relationship-be it a friendship, a romantic relationship or a marriage it is for reasons other than your emotional well-being.
Kindness alone may not be enough to make a relationship work. It’s appropriate to seek other areas of compatibility but I would argue that without this essential ingredient, no relationship will be truly satisfying.