How To Be Kinder In A Relationship
Valentine’s Day is the official time for wildly romantic gestures, but what should we be doing to make our other half happy the rest of the year? Relationship experts Mig Bennett and Emma Davey explain how and why we should all try to be a bit kinder…
Let’s go back to basics… In the context of relationships, what is kindness?
Mig: Kindness is being aware of what the other wants and needs to make them feel safe and valued in the relationship. But you should also learn what kindness means to your partner. If each of you writes a list of what constitutes kindness, those lists are unlikely to be the same. One of you might see actions as the way to show kindness; the other might see kindness as loving words or patient but active listening.
Emma: Kindness demonstrated in a relationship is taking the other person’s feelings into consideration and ensuring you show that affection in a loving and caring way. Being kind should come naturally and be part of who you are as a person. Thinking of others and going out of your way to make someone smile is a very lovely and attractive trait to have.
Kindness is often hailed as the secret to lasting relationships. Is that true?
Mig: It is. I always focus on kindness and giving appreciation for kindnesses shown when working with couples who want to find a way forward.
Emma: Being kind to your partner should be a natural thing to do. If you love and care about someone, the kindness comes naturally. I would say that trust, kindness and respect are the keys to a healthy and long-lasting relationship. If you don’t have all three, you will find yourself facing some challenging times ahead. Remember that people usually treat you how you treat them. If you’re kind, most people will return that kindness and that includes in relationships.
So it’s fair to say it’s pretty important then?
Emma: Being kind to your partner is so important in a relationship as it breeds connection and mutual happiness. Being kind allows each other to be themselves. If your partner is unkind, he or she can cause upset and friction which are not good foundations for a long-lasting relationship. If your partner is not being kind to you there may be a problem. Everyone should feel safe and secure in their relationship because if you love someone the natural thing to be is kind.
“It is always good to remain your authentic self, but it’s also good to think of how the other person will feel and how your action will make them feel.”
Does kindness have to be noticed to be effective?
Emma: Being kind to someone will not go unnoticed, and the response you get from the person you are being kind to is normally reciprocated. It also will make you feel good too; there is a nice feeling that comes with making someone else happy due to your actions.
Mig: It can start as acts of kindness that show value such as making a cup of tea, or asking about their day, and evolve into more subtle but very significant changes. With my clients, I see changes in their reactions to each other, their tone, their increasing lack of defensiveness or ability to listen, based on the work we do in counselling.
Given everything that’s going on at the moment, how are couples doing generally?
Mig: Requests for relationship help are much greater than normal, so I’d say we are currently struggling and there’s a bit of a shortfall on kindness. Our lives are limited; we feel scared, frustrated and in unknown territory. Tempers are frayed and we are more self-absorbed.
Where do you start with trying to be a bit kinder?
Emma: Remember that there are two of you in the relationship and kindness shouldn’t all be one way; both parties need to be kind to one another. You can show kindness in so many ways. Sometimes saying nothing at all can be the kindest thing you can do, for example if you partner is having a bad day, allow them to express themselves and really listen to them, without being confrontational. Being kind is letting your partner have that moment, offering support, comforting words or even a cuddle when they need it. It’s about understanding one another and what makes them happy.
Mig: Be curious. The word ‘curiosity’ has the same root as ‘care’. Ask your partner: what is it like to be in a relationship with me? Listen. Don’t defend or compare. Ask for more information and learn from it. Ask them for examples: when I do that, what do you feel? How would you prefer me to say it?
Are there any common habits that should be dropped in the pursuit of kindness?
Mig: Ignoring requests for change and assuming it will all be ok. Look out for youself saying things like ‘after the pandemic’, ‘when the house is finished’ or ‘when the children are older’. Tackle issues now and, if it’s difficult to know where to start, get professional couple help. I see so many couples on the brink of separation; one says the other just didn’t listen and that they can no longer bear it; sometimes they’ve left it too late to make the changes that would have saved the relationship.
Emma: It is always good to remain your authentic self, but it’s also good to think of how the other person will feel and how your action will make them feel. You should never have to be overly kind; I would recommend in being who you are. Being overly kind can come across fake and someone could see this as a red flag.
“Sometimes being kind means just listening – and asking questions. Don’t assume that making suggestions for ways to solve things is what they want.”
What is the kindest way to handle arguments or moments of conflict?
Emma: Allow your partner to speak their mind and listen to what they have to say without reacting. Allowing them to have the space to vent and express emotions is a good thing. Your partner will appreciate the opportunity to be able to speak without being ignored, dismissed or shut down. From this you will both be able to have your say and it will be quite clear there is a mutual respect there.
Mig: Try to remember that anger isn’t a feeling in itself. It’s an outward behaviour driven by more vulnerable feelings such as fear, shame and powerlessness. Ask your partner about that: what’s going on behind these words? Talk to that feeling, not their anger or frustration.
Are there ever times when it’s best not to do the kindest thing?
Mig: Women in particular don’t always want solutions. They want to air their thoughts and be heard. Sometimes being kind means just listening – and asking questions. Don’t assume that making suggestions for ways to solve things is what they want.
Any ideas on the best ways to be kind to a partner through lockdown?
Emma: Understand this is a challenging time and allow your partner to have their space, but check in with them regularly. If you notice they are struggling emotionally, offer support or make a suggestion to do something to help. Be spontaneous – being in lockdown doesn’t mean we can’t be romantic. Offer to make a special dinner or set up a date night with a good film and good food.
Mig: Give your partner treats of time alone away from the lockdown: ‘You go running/take your book to bed/ring your dad. I will do the lunch and the kids.’
Finally, any tips for Valentine’s Day next week?
Emma: Lockdown date night has been a great idea throughout all of this. Not being able to go out doesn’t mean Valentine’s Day is cancelled; we just have to think outside the box. Plan ahead – there’s not much you can’t get delivered now days. You can still get flowers, balloons, a little gift and a card without even having to step outside. Try to make the day exciting and different from the usual lockdown days. Even running a bath with some candles is a lovely kind idea. Think to yourself what would make your partner smile.
Source: Mig Bennett and Emma Davey.