Gary McClain, PhD, is a therapist, patient advocate, and writer who specializes in helping clients—as well as their family members and professional caregivers—deal with the emotional impact of chronic and life-threatening illnesses.
A question for you. How often have you said, or heard, “Sometimes I think she’s more patient with the clerk at the checkout counter than she is with me.”
Or, “It can be easier to be nice to people I don’t know. At least they aren’t trying to push all of my buttons.”
Simple acts of kindness happen all the time between strangers. You know, those brief moments of connection that leave everybody involved with the warm feeling that you get when you feel connected to another person. Could you use a little more of that kindness at your house?
As much as we love our partners and family members, the pressures of living with a chronic condition can put a lot of stress on family relationships. One sign that this may be happening in your relationships is how often you use phrases like “getting on my nerves.” Another is being snappy when you could have shown some kindness. Or just ignoring each other to avoid an argument.
Of course, nobody wants their loved one to treat them as if they were someone they had never met, and might not meet again. And who would admit to treating their loved one in this manner?
Let’s face it. Being kind to a stranger isn’t all that hard. We don’t have the history with them that we have with our own family members. They don’t make demands on us that we don’t always want to meet. They haven’t hurt or disappointed us like family members inevitably do. And it’s human nature to assume all kinds of goodwill that, sadly, we may not be assuming in our own family members.
Think back to the times when you haven’t exactly shown your partner or family members the kindness that you might show a stranger. Ready for a change? Here’s how to get the process started:
Stop sleepwalking. Make the decision to be more aware. Like during those times when your patience is running low, and you are more likely to be bothered by something that your loved one does. In other words, be aware of what pushes your buttons, and when your buttons are more likely to be pushed. Start taking the time to ask yourself: Am I at my best right now?
Breathe. Especially before you act. We always have a choice in how we behave toward other people. So when you feel yourself falling into the old patterns, remind yourself that you can choose to behave in a way that promotes harmony in your relationships. Take a step back and think before you act. Ask yourself: How can I behave in a way that promotes positive feelings and harmony in my relationships?
Have a heart. Decide to act out of kindness. Give the people you care about a break, even if you don’t feel like it. Remind yourself that they are doing the best they can, just as you are.
Fess up. When you slip, get things back on track. Those behavior patterns get hardwired into relationships over time, including the barbed comments and other less-than-kind reactions to each other. If your catch yourself in an act of unkindness—or recognize the signs in your partner or family member—acknowledge that you know what just happened and apologize. Change is a process. The more you practice, the better you’ll get.
Everybody benefits from simple acts of kindness, from the stranger you have a brief interaction with to the people you share a home with. Kindness is a boomerang, so turn the energy around at your house.