The hour was late, and as I turned into the driveway I could see the porch light had been left on for me. My heart warmed at the thoughtfulness of my husband. It felt good to be expected and welcomed by such kindness. As a family therapist, I have come to realize how much simple acts of kindness can mean in an individual’s life.
I recall a young woman and her husband coming in for help after a recent car accident. A nerve had been cut in this man’s otherwise handsome face, causing the corner of his mouth to droop. During most of the first session, he kept his hand on his chin to cover that corner of his mouth. Every once in a while his wife would reach up and take his hand and kiss his fingers, then fold her hand over his. Once, when his eyes filled with emotion, she reached up and kissed that corner of his mouth. And I thought, What kindness.
Kindness is an old-fashioned word; we seldom hear it anymore. However, it is neither out of date nor out of fashion. It is a necessary element to any relationship, particularly one as close as marriage.
Along with kindness comes goodwill, another vital element in marriage. Goodwill toward a spouse can be shown by restraint. There is a point beyond which you do not go when you differ in opinion, for it would cause pain or hurt to the other. Goodwill is to have consideration for your partner, to empathize, to see the situation from the other’s vantage point, to believe that what was done was the best the other could do.
Mike and Linn Nguyen were a couple who had been married for 26 years, and during those years they had experienced relatively minor changes. However, that ended when Linn, a lovely, petite, gracious lady, was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. At first different medications had allowed her life to go on normally. However, over time she became bedridden. Different people came and went in an effort to help this couple, including their married children. But finally she wanted only her husband to care for her. So he took early retirement and devoted every day to making her feel comfortable. She passed away seven years later. I knew there had to have been challenging moments. And I thought, What kindness, what goodwill.
The third necessary element in a marital relationship is generosity. Some equate that word most often with money. However, generosity has an even greater application in our thoughtfulness toward each other. Recently my husband and I entered a small restaurant. After we ordered our meal and chatted about the events of the day, I began to look around. I noted a few other couples also enjoying a meal out together, but one young family seated in a corner booth caught my attention, a father and mother with two small sons. One was in a high chair, and the other was not much older. I had almost finished eating when I noticed a most moving scene. When the waitress came with their order, she had only two plates of food. One was an order of pancakes for the youngsters, and a second was a hamburger platter, which she placed in front of the husband. Then the waitress placed an empty plate in front of the mother and turned to go.
I watched as the husband cut his hamburger in half and placed one portion on his wife’s plate along with half of the pickle. She caught his gaze and smiled and then turned to cut up the pancakes on the children’s plate. Here was a young husband obviously on a limited budget, who nevertheless found it important to take his wife out to dinner. Such a simple deed, but what a noble act. And I thought, What kindness, what goodwill, what generosity.