My husband called me about a half hour before a major business meeting that he’d had on the books for weeks. He was early to the meeting, and a little nervous, and he dialed me while sitting in the car. That man is terrible at email and texting, so we’re old school in our communication. It is normal for us to talk on the phone several times a day. Many times those mid-day phone conversations are the best discussions of our marriage.
On this day, just before his meeting, I was not feeling heartfelt. I was feeling annoyed. He’d been working a lot recently, and I’d been extra tired and extra emotional and that day in particular I was in a funk. I wasn’t very nice. I wasn’t mean, but I griped about something dumb from the morning. Even though the thought ran through my head that he was about to walk into this meeting, and that I should be lifting him up instead of putting a pea under his mattress, I still said something stupid.
When we were dating, I accompanied The Gorilla on a press trip to Amsterdam to promote his second movie. It was a last minute trip, and we hadn’t been getting along that great, and we were both struggling through a real crossroads in our relationship. While he was working, I took my time getting ready in the beautiful hotel room, the television tuned to the International CNN. The guest on Larry King was Dr. Laura, someone I had listened to on the radio and though I never cared for her delivery, I often agreed with her points. On this day, on this show, she was talking about marriage. And she challenged women to take one week and be nice - only be nice - to their husbands.
It was an aggressive twist on the bee/honey/vinegar saying, and there was a male condesension in her voice that I didn’t like. But I stood in that foreign bathroom in my underwear, with the hairbrush suspended in midair, and I felt convicted. The previous two months of my relationship with The Gorilla had been rocky, and I was weary of all the tactics. I had been pouty, angry, irrational, and sad. I had tried yelling, silent treatment, clinging, and distance. I had not tried kindness.
I decided to use the rest of the trip as an excuse to take an emotional break from the tension, to be kind to the boyfriend I loved, and hope the rest of it would fall away, at least briefly. That afternoon led to dinner led to the remainder of our stay in Amsterdam. When I wanted to speak sharply, I bit the inside of my cheek and tried to smile. When my heart got heavy with sadness, I tried to say something affectionate without keeping score, without expecting something in return. This is not my everyday behavior.
The response to this new forced attitude surprised me. My efforts were returned tenfold. Deeply felt ice began to thaw. We were finally able to talk without carefully constructed walls. All of that turned on just the smallest gestures.
I’m simplifying, of course. Our issues weren't extremely complicated, nor were they solved by a sweet smile. But since then I’ve noticed that a concerted effort just to be nice helps most discord. It’s not as easy as it sounds, but it is as simple.
On that day a few weeks back, my husband called me after his business meeting to report on its success. I listened carefully and returned his enthusiasm. In the few hours that had passed, I remembered my lessons from Amsterdam and reminded myself that a little kindness makes the difference in my marriage. Again.