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For Your Marriage

Try a Little Kindness

Kindness in words creates confidence, kindness in thinking creates profoundness, and kindness in feeling creates love (Lau Tzu).

Michelle hates to make decisions. Her husband, Craig, enjoys it. Over the years of their marriage Craig has learned that Michelle doesn’t like having decision made for her either, so how he makes a decision is very important. He has learned to ask for her opinion and to offer his in return. He takes her feelings into consideration; he knows what she likes and dislikes, and respects that. Craig loves Michelle and one way he demonstrates his love by making decisions with kindness and consideration, and Michelle loves him all the more for that.

Kindness is a difficult attribute to define, but not to illustrate. Each of us, if asked, could tell personal stories about when we have been treated kindly and when we have been treated unkindly. We know it when we experience it, and we recognize when it isn’t there.

A kind person acts in benevolent, gentle, and loving ways. In marriage, kindness is demonstrated through generous acts, considerate behavior, and comforting words. A kind person usually has a mild and pleasant disposition and acts with tenderness and concern for others. A man who brings his wife flowers as a sign of his love and a woman who strokes her husband’s arm as they watch a movie are acting with kindness.

Kindness is one of the seven virtues, and is considered the opposite of envy. A kind person celebrates another’s good fortune while an envious person grows angry at another’s success.

For example, Marta and Luis both have high stress jobs, but Marta is far more successful at her job than Luis is in his. While this is, at times, a source of tension in their marriage, Marta and Luis recognize the tension and deal with it as adults. Marta tries not to brag about her success and never uses it as a weapon when they argue. She cares about Luis and doesn’t want to hurt his self-esteem. For his part, Luis tries to celebrate Marta’s successes. He struggles at times with feeling that he is not carrying his share of the family responsibility, but because Marta treats him with such kindness, Luis is a happy man.

Kindness comes from the same root as the word “kin,” someone who is a part of your family. Thus, when you show kindness to your spouse, you are treating him or her as a part of your family, as “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (Genesis 2:23). These words are used at weddings to describe the ideal relationship between husband and wife. This scripture passage makes clear that for marriages to succeed—that is, to be happy and healthy—then couples must treat each other with the same gentleness, courtesy, compassion, and respect that they want for themselves.

Kindness is a way of showing love to another. Everything that St. Paul wrote about love in 1 Corinthians 13 (Love is patient; not jealous, pompous, inflated, or rude; does not seek its own interests, is not quick-tempered, does not brood over injury or rejoice over wrongdoing) also defines how a kind person acts.

Kindness is an essential virtue in a healthy and happy marriage. A recent study conducted in various cultures around the world asked people to name the trait they desired most in a mate. For both sexes, people overwhelmingly wanted their mates to be kind.

Marriages are strengthened when both members of a couple treat each other kindly: with love and understanding and with dignity and respect. Kindness is evident when a person puts the needs of his or her spouse first, acting on what will please or help the other most, and not on self-interest. By never being rude or abusive to your spouse in any way, you build a relationship of mutual trust and respect. A marriage based upon compassionate and caring thoughts, words, and actions—a marriage based on kindness—will be a generous relationship, with both man and wife sharing freely all that they have with each other, with their children, and with the larger society. These are signs of healthy, happy, and strong marriages.

A Spanish proverb says that “He who sows courtesy reaps friendship, and he who plants kindness gathers love.” This is also true in marriage. Little acts of kindness can mean a lot. Simple acts work wonders: cooking your spouse’s favorite meal when he or she has had a hard day or bringing home a little gift “just because.” Many couples divide up chore responsibilities because of personal preferences. Sometimes doing another person’s chore, like taking the car to get tires rotated, can be a wonderful act of kindness. So can putting love notes in a briefcase or lunch bag, or allowing your spouse just to sit and watch a ballgame on TV when you’d rather do something else.

Disagreements happen in every relationship; the healthy married couple has learned to resolve these disagreements kindly. By offering a gentle word to an angry remark or by refusing to say harsh things when you feel them, you let kindness wrap you and your spouse in a loving blanket of respect that smothers the flame of anger before it can erupt into an inferno of emotions. In this way, kindness leads to happiness.

Read more Virtue of the Month reflections.