Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A Rule for Relationships: Forgive the Small Things

As we prepared to go the gym for our morning workout, my wife discovered that she had misplaced her car keys. We searched for ten minutes and finally found them in the car, still in the ignition. Unfortunately, the battery was dead because she was listening to the radio when she left the car the day before.

We called Triple-A, and the tow-truck came to start the car. Problem solved. We went to the gym later that morning. 

But somewhere in the process, maybe when I realized she had left the car with the radio on, there was a perilous moment. My disappointment could have escalated to frustration or even anger. I could have thought, "How could you leave the car keys in the car - with the radio on?" 

Or maybe I could have actually said the words. Or worse. How about: "Why don't you pay attention to what you're doing?" Or "What's the matter with you?"

Do married couples actually say such things to each other? Do friends? Coworkers?

Of course they do. It wouldn't surprise me if some version of this scenario happened a million times a day across the planet.

But it's a costly mistake, for two reasons.

For one thing, it's hurtful. If you react in anger, it's verbally punishing. My wife was probably already feeling bad about it, but to have her husband pile on and put her down would attack her self-esteem. And that's the last thing I want. She's got challenging things to do in her life, and she needs to be strong and confident. 

Besides, I love her.

The other reason it's a mistake is that I'm not in a position to criticize. I've done the same thing myself - more than once. Who hasn't? People aren't perfect. And getting distracted and leaving your keys in the car is a good example of what imperfect people do. In fact, at this point in my life, I realize that almost everything that people can do to annoy me are things that I've done myself at one time or another. 

And besides, it's a small thing. Trivial. Petty. The correct thing for me to do is forgive her instantly. And reassure her that it's no big deal.

Do you want your relationships to endure? Do you want your marriage to grow stronger over time? It's all too easy to give in to anger and lash out. It does take a certain amount of strength to keep your composure and deal with your frustration without hurting the person you care about. But if you care about your relationship, you'll make the effort.

Forgive the small things.

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., , Copyright 2010. Building Personal Strength .


Meredith Bell said...

Excellent reminder, Denny, of the consequences involved with both types of reactions. If more people read this post and followed your advice, there would be many more satisfying personal and professional relationships in this world. Great example with the car keys - really makes the point well. And congratulations for choosing the right response!

Sean said...

It's an excellent idea, not just for couples, but for friends and coworkers as well. Save the anger for something that really matters.

If I were to expand on the point, I would say to "forgive" the small things is not the right action. Forgiveness implies that someone harmed you, and you know it was bad, and out of a desire for peace, love, and an easier mind, you want to move past the sins committed against you. No, I don't think minor faults are worthy of forgiveness. That is giving them too much credit.

When you are walking down the street and are presented with a minor obstacle, do you get upset? Is the obstacle worth your anger? Do you need to forgive the obstacle for blocking you? No, you merely walk around the obstacle and immediately forget about it.

So it should be with other minor faults. Was anyone harmed? Was there malicious intent? No, merely an accident due to forgetfulness that is easily repaired. I don't think it's worthy of "I forgive you", when it should be laughed off as you continue on your day and get some lunch.

I mean geez, if little things like these bother you, you should talk to people with Real Problems.

MichelleVasquez said...

My late husband always said, "The time to panic is not the time to panic." Likewise, anger in such a situation would be out of place. I'm so glad you shared this, Denny! It's a beautiful reminder to be kind to each other.


Kathleen Scott said...

And you did make me feel better. It was instantly a happier day. Thank you, Honey.

Tracy Todd said...

It's so often the small things in life that make the biggest difference. I've learned from personal experience that the only thing one has control over is one's attitude. So, it may as well be positive!

Lori Meyer said...

Thanks for reminding us that how we react to small things makes a big difference. I would add that repeated angry responses to minor incidents have a cumulative effect that over time can have destructive and potentially tragic consequences for a relationship. Your post was a wonderful reminder that little incidents of our humanity such as misplacing keys are a common thread in our journeys on this life. Lost keys can be found or replaced; lost dignity is much harder to recover.

Adrienne said...

I love this article. It is so important to remember. Pick you battles and let the little things go!

Rosa Ravenwind said...

Beautiful, Denny. She is lucky to have you and all of us in cyberspace are edified as well.


Sarcastic Bastard said...

Your words are wise, and I love Kathleen, too.

Whirlochre said...

Letting people be wrong is the first step on the road to exorcising your own inner goober.