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Kindness over Contempt Breeds Love

In this final instalment in our month of love we look at the small things that could make or break relationships, with a significant other, family or within your community.

Psychologist John Gottman spent over four decades studying couples to find out what makes them work, or not. The one thing Gottman found that is evident in all failed or strained relationships is that of contempt.

He found that people who are focused on criticising their partners not only miss the positive thing their partners are doing, but they also see negativity when it isn’t even there. By giving your partner the cold shoulder, deliberately ignoring or giving a indifferent response makes the other person feel worthless, invisible and not valued.

On the flip side, kindness brings people closer together. Kindness, along with emotional stability, is the most important predictor or satisfaction and stability in a relationship. It makes the other person feel cared for, understood and validated.

The more someone receives or witnesses kindness, the more they will be be kind themselves, which leads to an increase in love and generosity in a relationship.

So how does something as simple as kindness actually work? How come so many have not figured out how to implement such a small act with such a generous payoff?

We tend to think about kindness as a fixed trait, either you have it or you don’t. But in thinking that we are limiting ourselves to believing that it can only go so far. Gottman offers another way of thinking, that kindness is like a muscle. Stronger in some, but with the ability to grow stronger with exercise.

The most commonly recognised acts of kindness, like making each other a cup of coffee, offering to do a chore, etc. are definitely important but kindness in the following two areas are what makes or breaks relationships:

Being generous with the other person’s intentions

Psychologist Ty Tashiro explains: “Even in relationships where people are frustrated, it’s almost always the case that there are positive things going on and people trying to do the right thing. A lot of times, a partner is trying to do the right thing, even if it is executed poorly. So appreciate the intent.”

Shared joy

Research shows that being there for one another when things go right is even more important for relationship quality. When the other person shares a piece of good news, how you respond is a measure of kindness. Indifference, lack of excitement or even minimising the news will break down the relationship, whereas encouragement, shared joy and excitement builds on it.

So when faced with a frustration or an opportunity to do so, practise kindness and be ready to receive it in return.

For more information on Gottman’s study read here.