On Being Nice Where and When It Really Counts

I recently sat through a long work meeting where the retirement of a senior executive was announced. At the end of the meeting, employee after employee spoke up to not only offer their good wishes but also to explain how this executive’s patience, kindness, and wisdom had touched his or her life. The comments were sincere and moving, and I can only imagine that the retiree must have been gratified to hear such wonderful thoughts shared.

In that context, it came as quite the surprise when, the following day, the executive admitted to a colleague that, as nice as he had been to his colleagues, he had ignored and often treated his spouse poorly at home. It seems all the good will was spent at work, with none left by the time the workday was over. The glowing remarks hardly seem worth it, if you ask me.

Hubby and I celebrated seven years together yesterday, and I can honestly say that my love and devotion grow stronger and deeper every day. My life changed when I met him, all for the better, and I am excited about all the adventures that remain before us. I cannot understand why people settle for anything less than greatness in their personal lives. I know there are reasons, but, still.

I think many people confuse intimacy with a free pass to treat their spouse poorly. They think the familiarity means they can be “real” and “honest.” I think they’re dead wrong. Certainly one should be able to be honest in a relationship, but your spouse deserves your best, not your worst. It seems obvious, but I’ve met many people that treat friends, coworkers, or even total strangers with more respect, more patience, and more concern than they show their significant other.

I also maintain that fighting is failure. Whether it’s a failure on one person’s part or a shared fault, fighting is a sign of a relationship that’s not healthy. Why do so many people accept it, then? Why do some even celebrate it, as if it is only a sign of the passion bubbling beneath the surface? It’s not. It’s a sign of immaturity. Yes, of course couples must navigate conflict; you can’t share a life without disagreements, different points of view, and the like. But, cruel words, yelling, emotional blackmail, histrionics, slamming doors, they simply aren’t necessary in a healthy relationship.

No one is perfect, and no relationship is perfect, and I certainly don’t intend to come off as a Pollyanna about the ease of making a relationship work wonderfully. I don’t have all the answers; far from it, actually. I do think, though, that lots of people aren’t willing to put in the work. I also think lots of people settle for mediocrity. Both are sad.

At the end of the day, your choice of partner is the single most important decision you make in your life. It’s more important than career, children, where you live, all of them. It’s not easy. It shouldn’t be. In the process of trying to get it right, mistakes will be made. Sometimes, big mistakes will be made. The most important thing to get right, though, is to have your priorities right, because, no matter how awesome your colleagues at work think you are, you don’t go home to them. And, after the retirement dinner has been eaten and the gold watch given, the plaudits will be cold comfort.

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