Sunday, January 25, 2015

Living with Intention in Relationships

I remember being small and often visiting an elderly couple who always had an awkward silence between them.  They never referred to each other in terms of endearment.  They never touched.  They rarely looked directly at each other.  Their recliners were side by side with a small table between and it might as well have been a brick wall. 

It was not the comfortable silence of two people who have spent their lives in such togetherness that they didn't need words to fill the air because they each knew what the other was thinking without speaking audibly.  It was the bitter tense silence of a lifetime of disappointment, discontent and betrayal. 

Other visitors would reminisce about past times.  I had seen photos of them in much younger days – smiling and playing with their kids and holding hands.  But when they offered comments about those times their comments were sarcastic and negative.  I always wondered what it was that made them so bitter and gruff. 

When he passed away, those dark secrets all came to light.  His other daughter, one from a secret family he had kept all those years, had seen his obituary and made contact with the family. 

They had come from the era where divorce was not considered an option even when a marriage was damaged beyond repair.  Instead, they stayed together and carried that bitterness with them as a heavy yoke.  She hurt beyond words so much so that the words that came out were bitter and harsh.  He silent, guilt-ridden, knowing that he could never make it up to her. 

It was reflected in the family through the generations.  No one could really put a finger on when their attitudes toward each other had changed but clearly she had at some point in time discovered his secret life and harbored deep resentment that they were unable or unwilling to discuss.

So many relationships become toxic like this – slowly eroding over time – until something catastrophic changes it forever.

It’s easy to become complacent and stop doing all those little things as time goes on.  Many people actually joke about it – with a hint of real hurt behind those words.  Many times we don’t realize how much those little things mattered to the other person.  Holding hands, packing a lunch, holding doors, a text or phone call in the middle of the workday, date nights, looking each other in the eye instead of running after the kids and looking at phones while talking to each other…it’s a natural thing for those little things to fall aside as kids and busy schedules and stress increase. 

But that is what makes it so important to be intentional.  To every morning hug and kiss your loved ones goodbye and tell them that you love them.  To send a little “I love you” text at a random time of the day.  To give them an unexpected gift here and there that shows you pay attention to what they like.  To hold hands when you cross the parking lot.  To put aside your phone and sit together at the dinner table and ask your kids and spouse about their day and look them in the eye so they know you are truly listening.  To apologize sincerely for a wrongdoing or misunderstanding.  To make sure you say “I love you” at the end of every day – even when you are fighting.

I’ll admit that I am not always in the mood and not always the best at doing these things.  But when I do, even when times are tough and everything seems like a struggle, it is like the weight of the world lifts and suddenly it is easier to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

There are times when I am so frustrated with the kids after a morning of struggling to get out the door that it’s hard to even speak.  And then we get to school and I’m dropping them off and I see the looks on their faces and know that they are struggling too.  That they are tense and grumpy as I am.  I always, always, hug and kiss them goodbye.  And when I put my arms around them and tell them I love them and to have a good day – I can feel the relief wave through them and they will pull back and look me in the eyes and light up.  And they do have a good day – they do turn their attitudes around.

It can be really hard to break a cycle of any kind, but being intentional can make a real difference, even in relationships that have been hurt or that have become disconnected.

Part 1 of Living with Intention can be visited here.  Comments?  I'd love to hear them!

1 comment:

Ed Hanover said...

Wonderful job on this , just a great article and so very true.