Many marriages that end in divorce failed due to a lack of kindness. In fact, research reveals kindness as one of the most important predictors of satisfaction and stability in marriage. It makes each partner feel valued, understood, and validated. I’m not just talking about the grandiose shows of kindness—the big gifts, the beautiful vacations. No, those moments don’t make a marriage. It’s the tiny, often subtle, opportunities for kindness within a marriage that will make or break it.
Consider the simple kindness of responding to your spouse. Imagine your spouse makes a statement in your presence. It may be a simple question like, “It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it?” Or it might be a simple statement like, “I think that’s an Oriole. Did you see it?” Now you have a choice. Will you respond or ignore, acknowledge you heard them or pretend you didn’t hear? Will you shift to focus on your spouse for a moment or maintain your focus on whatever currently has captured your attention? If you respond, will you do so with interest and enthusiasm or half-heartedly? Or will you respond by diminishing their interest or statement? A classic study by John Gottman found that those who responded with interest 87% of the time were still married after six years. Those who only responded 33% of the time were divorced. In other words, responding with kindness nine out of ten times built a happier, healthier marriage. But responding with kindness only three out of ten times brought the marriage to a crashing end.
It may seem like such a little thing, responding with interest to your spouse’s random statements, but it is a huge act of kindness that will fill your spouse’s emotional bank account with the currency of feeling valued, secure, and worthy.
Another simple kindness that can make or break your marriage involves how you see your spouse…or rather what you look for in your spouse. Kindness calls us to search our home and spouse for the things we can appreciate and express gratitude about. It compels us to search for what our spouse is doing right so we can express appreciation and admiration for them and their actions. That may sound obvious, but I have met too many couples that only criticize one another. They point out what their spouse does wrong, never acknowledging anything they do right. “You unloaded the dishwasher…finally.” “Are you ever going to take out the garbage?” “You never replace the toilet paper.” “I’d let you mop the floor, but you do it so poorly that I just have to redo it.” Unfortunately, those who criticize and complain miss 50% of the positive things their spouses do, and they see negativity when it’s not there, perpetuating a vicious downward cycle of criticism and complaint. Take the time, look around for things you admire in your spouse, things you appreciate about your spouse, and things you can express gratitude to your spouse about. Practice doing these three things every day. In fact, make it a daily habit.
Let me share just one more act of kindness that can make or break your marriage. When your spouse comes home excited to share a piece of good news, how will you respond? Kindness calls us to rejoice with the other person’s success, to enthusiastically connect over the good news. Kindness encourages us to be there for our partner when things are going right for them, not just when things are going poorly. In fact, many say that being available to one another when things are going right is more important to relationship quality than only being there when things are rough. We want to share joys with one another. So, celebrate when your spouse celebrates. Rejoice with them when they rejoice. Get excited for what excites them. Doing so is an act of kindness that can save your marriage.