Why some Couples Endure

There are many reasons why relationships fail, but if you look at what drives the deterioration of many relationships, it’s often a breakdown of kindness. As the normal stresses of a life together pile up—with children, career, friend, in-laws, and other distractions crowding out the time for romance and intimacy—couples may put less effort into their relationship and let the petty grievances they hold against one another tear them apart. In most marriages, levels of satisfaction drop dramatically within the first few years together. But among couples who not only endure, but live happily together for years and years, the spirit of kindness and generosity guides them forward.

Emily Esfahani Smith writing in The Atlantic

Kindness in Anger

The hardest time to practice kindness is, of course, during a fight—but this is also the most important time to be kind. Letting contempt and aggression spiral out of control during a conflict can inflict irrevocable damage on a relationship.

“Kindness doesn’t mean that we don’t express our anger,” psychologist Julie Gottman explained, “but the kindness informs how we choose to express the anger. You can throw spears at your partner. Or you can explain why you’re hurt and angry, and that’s the kinder path.”

Emily Esfahani Smith writing in The Atlantic

Kindness glues couples together

Research has shown that kindness (along with emotional stability) is the most important predictor of satisfaction and stability in a marriage. Kindness makes each partner feel cared for, understood, and validated—feel loved. “My bounty is as boundless as the sea,” says Shakespeare’s Juliet. “My love as deep; the more I give to thee, / The more I have, for both are infinite.” That’s how kindness works too: there’s a great deal of evidence showing the more someone receives or witnesses kindness, the more they will be kind themselves, which leads to upward spirals of love and generosity in a relationship.

There are two ways to think about kindness. You can think about it as a fixed trait: either you have it or you don’t. Or you could think of kindness as a muscle. In some people, that muscle is naturally stronger than in others, but it can grow stronger in everyone with exercise. Masters tend to think about kindness as a muscle. They know that they have to exercise it to keep it in shape. They know, in other words, that a good relationship requires sustained hard work.

Emily Esfahani Smith writing in The Atlantic 

err in the direction of kindness

Accomplishment is unreliable. “Succeeding,” whatever that might mean to you, is hard, and the need to do so constantly renews itself (success is like a mountain that keeps growing ahead of you as you hike it), and there’s the very real danger that “succeeding” will take up your whole life, while the big questions go untended.

Since, according to me, your life is going to be a gradual process of becoming kinder and more loving: Hurry up. Speed it along. Start right now. There’s a confusion in each of us, a sickness, really: selfishness. But there’s also a cure. So be a good and proactive and even somewhat desperate patient on your own behalf — seek out the most efficacious anti-selfishness medicines, energetically, for the rest of your life.

Do all the other things, the ambitious things — travel, get rich, get famous, innovate, lead, fall in love, make and lose fortunes, swim naked in wild jungle rivers (after first having it tested for monkey poop) – but as you do, to the extent that you can, err in the direction of kindness.

Do those things that incline you toward the big questions, and avoid the things that would reduce you and make you trivial. That luminous part of you that exists beyond personality — your soul, if you will — is as bright and shining as any that has ever been. Bright as Shakespeare’s, bright as Gandhi’s, bright as Mother Teresa’s. Clear away everything that keeps you separate from this secret luminous place. Believe it exists, come to know it better, nurture it, share its fruits tirelessly.

And someday, in 80 years, when you’re 100, and I’m 134, and we’re both so kind and loving we’re nearly unbearable, drop me a line, let me know how your life has been. I hope you will say: It has been so wonderful.

George Saunders Commencement Speech 2013

Gratitude and Kindness

A driver gives way to you at a place where there is no clear priority; you don’t acknowledge him. A fellow pedestrian steps into the road for you, or holds a door; you breeze on by. On holiday, you give your smallest and most worthless coins to the woman who has carefully cleaned your room. The stroppy teenager rails at the parent who scraped and saved for her. Commuters swarming in a London street never once raise their eyes to notice the splendour of a winter dawn.

No blood is spilt in any of these cases. Nothing is stolen. No one’s life is ruined. The prick of pain passes soon enough. Yet a tiny seed of ice has been sown, formed of arrogance on one side and, on the other, a sense of worthlessness. That ice spreads, and creeps into the veins and crevices of life: so that on the next occasion the door is not held, the room is cleaned carelessly, the car does not give way and the e-mail is never sent. As the opportunity for kindness is ignored, so the chance of reciprocal kindness, in the form of thanks, never comes to be. What is never given can never be repaid.

Ingratitude is the frost that nips the flower even as it opens, that shrivels the generous apple on the branch, that freezes the fountain in mid-flow and numbs the hand, even in the very act of giving. It is a sin of silence, absence and omission, as winter’s sin is a lack of light; a sin against charity, which otherwise warms the heart and, in the truest sense, makes the world turn.

Ann Wroe, writing in Intelligent Life