Learning to be kindest to those we love most
Carolyn Hax is away. The following is from Aug. 13, 2003.
My husband and I met in college and have been married now for six years. I love him and can't imagine living my life without him. The problem is that we are taking each other for granted and becoming increasingly harsh with the words we say. It's the tiny things that set us on edge these days. I know we are toughest on those we love the most because we expect so much from them. How do I begin to love my husband the way he deserves to be loved, and bring us back to the time when we were always there for each other?
-- College Sweetie
Stop expecting so much from him. And take the cliche about being toughest on those we love most and give it the porcelain swirl.
The people we love deserve our lightest touch, and that means expecting him to be, allowing him to be, and loving him for, nothing more than himself. And, it means expecting the same forgiveness from him. It's the only thing any of us can reasonably, and justly, expect of anyone.
That's the philosophical angle, at least. The practical one will probably serve you better: Expect him to be the perfect housemate, and every day he'll give you a day full of "tiny things" to bemoan. You left the cap off the toothpaste, you're late again, that chicken suit isn't amusing.
Accepting him as is, on the other hand, releases you from having to pick at him every time he disappoints you, because he'll stop disappointing you; you'll simply expect that he's always 10 minutes late and the toothpaste will never be capped. All you have to do is remind yourself you love the person who has the good traits that happen to come with the bad ones.
… Bad ones that didn't always bother you so much, right? Not coincidentally, that's something almost every new couple does "back in the time," when they first figure out they're nuts about each other. They minimize the flaws, dismiss them as small prices to pay.
Evoke that forgiving climate, and restore it by example. Choose not to say something harsh, consciously, even if it means you "lose" the battle at hand. Choose to say, "I'm sorry for snapping at you." Be warm again, be vulnerable again, count to 20, and wait.