The importance of kindness

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f you’ll forgive me, I’d like to boast a little. Recently I was at university chatting to one of my fellow ‘mature’ students. She’s a mum and we were talking about parenting. We’ve known each other for about 18 months. She told me she thought I was kind. I nearly fell off my chair with shock and pride. Kindness is something I’ve been working on for a long time.

My darling wife Kate, to whom I’ve been married for nearly 37 years, has spent most of those years telling me that all she wants is for me to be kind to her. Having very nearly divorced fairly early on in our marriage, we’ve clearly done something differently to get this far. Kate said she agreed with my friend. I am kind.

It’s not that I was unkind before. The opposite of kindness is thoughtlessness, not cruelty. Being kind is about putting yourself in somebody else’s shoes and seeing things from their point of view. It’s about being interested and thoughtful and not imposing yourself.

After our second child was born, Kate and I did the classic thing of drifting apart. Kate focused on being a mum. I took a back seat and focused on work and money. We stopped being friends and became functional parents, not really thinking about one another. I thought about work and the children much more than about her. I wasn’t kind.

A few years ago, Kate and I were writing a book – What Mums Want (and Dads Need to Know) – about how our marriage had come back from the brink. We wanted to know how common our experience was, so we ran a survey of 300 mums. We asked them to rate the importance of various different roles and characteristics in their husband or partner.

Being a friend, being kind, and being involved were comfortably the top priorities. Fixing stuff and earning money, though not unimportant, were at the bottom of the list.

Kindness is everything. It shows thought, consideration, care. It shows you notice and you value. Being kind is an active decision that requires some sort of action. It only takes little things: a cup of tea, being aware, taking time. But those little things reveal the character behind them.

When somebody is kind, it’s hugely attractive. No wonder mums rate this as the number one quality they want from their other half. If we men could grasp that what mums want most is friendship, interest and kindness, we’d have a lot less heartache and family breakdown.

I only wish I’d known this all those years ago when I married Kate. We would have had a far smoother ride. Still, better late than never.

Harry Benson

Harry Benson is research director for The Marriage Foundation and author of Commit or Quit: The Two Year Rule and Other Rules for Romance
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