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Kindness Revisited

Healing in the midst of chaos.

RANDI GUNTHER Clinical Psychologist & Marriage Counselor

Many people are facing hard challenges amid this heart-breaking crisis. They are deeply concerned about their physical, emotional, and financial survival struggling through these challenges, and how they will be able to rebuild their lives when the crisis finally subsides.

Many couples and their families are now mandated to stay at home, requiring that they spend every waking moment in each other’s company. That obligatory forced and continual intimacy will create new interpersonal struggles. As each family member will not be able to disengage from one another’s company, they will have to expedite their skills to get along as both the beautiful and dysfunctional aspects of their relationships will emerge.

It is so important that all relationship partners do whatever they can to increase their positive interactions and decrease those that could damage their relationship during these sequestered times and in the future. If they consciously commit to doing that, they will be able to tip the scale towards healing instead of creating damage that will have to be attended to when they can resume their normal lifestyles.

They must work together to make that happen. Everyone must be willing to behave kindlier to each other, even under uncertain stress and increased anxiety. They must intentionally put aside more typically reactive negative reactions and instead treat one another with support, care, and comfort.

Most relationship partners typically take out their distresses on each other rather than on the outside world. But they have time in between these outbursts to heal or, at least avoid the relationship until the bad times pass or the disputes can be resolved. But when times are hard and last too long, they might not have those healing times to rely upon. Staying kind under prolonged stress is not easy for anyone, but crucially important when outcomes are uncertain and tensions run high.

It is not enough to simply ask people to be kind because it means different things to different people. During times of hardship, relationship partners desperately need to do everything they can to be on the same page. Each act of kindness must be noted and appreciated, even though it might not be the same for both. If they reach out to understand each other’s kindness styles, they can find the core similarities and benefit from its effects.

Couples who commit to becoming a collaborative team during extended hardships help one another to accurately interpret what each is offering so that individual acts of kindness are both given and received successfully. To do so, they need to explore their differences in all of the following five areas where kindness can increase.

Physical Kindness. People crave physical touch in different ways, especially when they are facing challenges that make them fearful or insecure. For example, those who might normally enjoy sexual fulfillment might be unable to during stressful times. They might, instead, just want a reassuring hand on the back, playful or teasing prodding, tender hugging, or physical closeness without necessarily resulting in sexual connection.

Physical kindness depends on sensing another’s physical posturing, expressions, and needs and they may change over time. “Listening” at that level of attunement and responsivity can help each partner know what helps or hinders.

Emotional Kindness. The way that each partner expresses or receives emotional nurturing may also be different. caring is expressed or received may also be different for each relationship partner. Everyone facing uncertainty becomes more sensitive to voice tones, facial expressions, and body language and might hear something differently than it is intended.

While some people need gentle encouragement when they are afraid and vigilant, others may toughen up, fearful that vulnerability will overtake them if they let themselves feel that way. Yet, they still may need comfort. Other intimate partners simply need forgiveness when their frustration levels increase, and they are more prone to react with irritability.

Emotional kindness is particularly effective if it is expressed at the beginning and end of each day. If partners can emotionally console and support each other with those kinds of words and actions during those times. they can make the interim between much easier to bear.

Mental Kindness. Couples who have practiced authentic and open communication in the past find it easier to understand each other when they are under stress. They have practiced knowing what to say and when to say it and can continue to effectively share even when they are facing a stressful situation. They know what words or phrases have been soothing to the other and those which make tensions worse, and choose to do what works the best.

Sadly, those relationship partners who have had trouble understanding each other in the past are more prone to misunderstanding when crises cause more pressure. It is crucial that they understand the difference between the content they are expressing and the way they are feeling about each other as they share their words. If the interaction between them intensifies in anger or defensiveness, they need to immediately stop talking about the subject at hand and focus, instead, on repairing the connection.

Spiritual Kindness. “People who pray together, stay together,” must become a mantra during times of extended stress and uncertainty. Each person may have his or her own way of connecting with something bigger than self and couples must not impose their individual ways of worship on one another.

It is important, though, that they include each other in when, how, and why they reach beyond the relationship to find peace, comfort, and courage. It is not a rejection of the other, but a desire to experience a deeper perspective that can help them better help each other when they bring those moments back into the relationship.

Attitudinal Kindness. Successful relationship partners know that their basic attitude toward each other and the relationship is what is essential to keep all of the other expressions of kindness intact. When times are hard and uncertain, they let go of any ego needs to feel superior or dominant.

Instead, they become a team of peers, allowing and encouraging whomever is the best at any task to take charge of that situation at the time. There is no quibbling over role importance or priority, only how each partner’s particular skill set will do the most good for the relationship to triumph over the situation together.

Kindness incorporates all of the above dimensions, plus the commitment and intention by both partners to increase those behaviors throughout the duration of the crisis. “Intention” is the important word here. People become better at whatever they practice. If they practice what is good for the relationship, they will improve those skills. If, sadly, they practice behaviors that hurt one another, they will get better at being hurtful.

When relationships are under continuous and long-lasting stress, they are more vulnerable to damage and more open to transformation. What a couple does during those unstable and frightening times will hold long after the pressure lifts, whichever way the relationship goes. Those who live in one another’s minds and hearts and focus on the blessings they share find that their relationship bond becomes stronger than it was before the challenges happened.

Whichever words, actions, or attitudes you find the most helpful, practice them with intention and commitment. Some of you will find that altruism motivates you. Others change their behavior by putting all of the ways of being kind under the rubric of just being more decent. Many people are kindest when taking charge and others express their kindness by appreciation and gratefulness.

Patience, tolerance, empathy, forgiveness, trust, and commitment to more than self are all pieces of the overall picture of kindness. By focusing on these intentions and keeping them central to all of your interactions, you can help each other not only survive the current crisis but thrive beyond it.

Learn more at Heroic Love.

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