When Loved Ones Get Our Worst: Reserving Kindness For Our Favourite People

Written by Ro Kwun
5 mins read
Published on Feb 14, 2024

Editor’s note: This is an adapted article from Roberta’s blog of reflection and learnings

TLDR: Running thin on kindness for your loved ones? Ro explores deeper why that happens and how we can change that.

Life’s Ironies

It’s one of life’s ironies, that we often reserve our charm and grace for colleagues and fleeting strangers, while our closest companions sometimes (or often) get the grumpy, exhausted and less-than-ideal versions of us. 

In a recent conversation with some friends (all inspiring, strong ladies), we reflected on how easy it is to take those dearest to us for granted. 

It’s like we’re keeping our kindness currency in a bank, only using the keycard for brief interactions scattered throughout our day. I’ve been pondering this behaviour and why this tends to be the case for so many of us. It is as if our bank of Metta is sucked out of us before we notice.

Great at corporate, Not-so-great at loved ones

A close friend of mine, a true corporate powerhouse, who can network with potential clients and business magnates with the charisma of a Hollywood star, reflected on how she often greets her partner with but a quick peck and a tyranny of demands. 

Such a paradox. It’s not intentional, of course — she doesn’t mean to be demanding and low energy. In the moment, she isn’t able to withhold her raw emotions and frustrations and when he’s not around, she feels worse for her behaviour. She had, what Ajahn Brahm calls, ‘Double Guilt’, the guilt from feeling guilty about doing something negative

Loved ones in our line of fire

We’ve all been there. Life’s demands and uncertainties that are associated with being an adult can leave us feeling anxious and on edge. When we’re with our loved ones, we get to come out from under the facade that we carry throughout our days and reveal our anxieties and raw emotions. 

Who better to witness this transformation than our loved ones, who end up often unfortunately in the firing line?

Showing kindness to others is an important social currency. I believe that a small kindness to a stranger can go a long way. It’s important to remember though, that friends and family are our true gems, and worthy of being treated as such. 

They care deeply, they’re the ones who see us at our worst and still love us. In a world bursting with seven billion people, these connections inject meaning and purpose into our existence. 

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So then, it should be as natural as breathing to shower them with kindness and affection, right?

How often do you give your partner a warm smile?

When we talk about kindness, it’s often defined as selflessly helping others, with no expectation of receiving anything in return. 

We beam at our barista, applaud a colleague’s effort, and lend an ear to an acquaintance. With our friends and family, we often have a different bar for them and load them with expectations that we associate with our relationship. 

We don’t approach them with the same lens that we do strangers, which makes showing kindness that much more meaningful.

Unfiltered vs. Worst Self

It’s both a blessing and a curse to have our loved ones see all of us. They see the best side of us and the less patient and often curt sides of our personalities. 

Psychological studies even reveal that we sometimes unleash direct (nagging, demands) and indirect (passive-aggressiveness) aggression on our closest ones because we think they can handle it. Essentially, we treat them like the punching bags of our emotions. 

Think about that. We’re being our worst selves to our favourite people, just because they will “tolerate” it. What a twisted way of showing affection.

Imagine An Alternate Reality with Your Loved Ones

Wouldn’t it be better if we lit up when our partner entered the room? Or greeted our parents with hugs that radiate love? Maybe we should meet our friends with the energy we save for the coffee meeting with a client?

I’m not advocating for us to don masks and put up fronts before our loved ones. But it’s about acknowledging how our autopilot treatment of our loved ones can be harmful. 

Time is precious, and in our busy lives, amid countless demands, it’s vital to spoil our loved ones with kindness and appreciation. 

These are a few tips about how we can show more kindness and love to our favourite people:

Practice Stoicism — imagine life without them

This can sound morbid and negative, but that’s exactly what makes it a strong practice. In my daily meditations, I can experience the huge hole my life would have without the presence and love of my family and closest friends. 

This makes me feel a sense of immense gratitude and love for them and the time that I have with them. I’m able to be more present and more openly show my appreciation for them.

This echoes what the Buddha taught:

“ Some do not understand

that we must die,

But those who do realize this

settle their quarrels.” –Dhammapada 6

Feel and Show Gratitude for Their Actions

Ever notice the small gestures from your partner, like making you a cup of tea or opening the door for you? 

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Maybe it’s a friend, listening to your latest quandary. It’s so easy to take for granted these actions from our loved ones when we are in the thick of our turmoil. 

Yet, the small actions are acts of love that we should take more time to acknowledge. Noticing these actions gives us opportunities for us to show gratitude. It can be as simple as conveying your gratitude for their actions through a heartfelt, in-the-moment “thank you.” 

By sharing gratitude and being aware of their actions, you are less likely to “attack” your loved ones. 

It comes back twofold, as it also helps future difficult conversations become more meaningful. 

You can try out Gratitude meditation guided by an awesome nun, Ayya Khema, right here.

Be Present — The Game-Changer

Quality time together requires presence and curiosity. No matter how tired, grumpy or impatient I feel, nothing turns that around and shows my partner that I care more, than by being present. 

When I am present, I have the space to appreciate that they are human beings, just like me who are experiencing their life challenges and insecurities. Presence is the key to showing love and gratitude, as it helps to create space and intentions from your actions. 

I switch off my smartphone, turn away from the screen, and just listen. Listen with compassion and love by remembering that the words that my loved ones share, convey how they feel, and this is important to me.

Amongst all the chaos of work and life, we mustn’t forget to scatter kindness where it’s most needed. 

It takes effort to ensure our loved ones feel like they are the most important people in our lives. While it’s beautiful that they get full access to see us at our worst, it’s not a free pass to treat them worse than we treat a mere stranger or colleague. 

By expressing kindness in your relationships, even when you’re venting or airing frustrations, we are paving the way for those close to us to listen and understand us. Kindness gets your needs met.

Author: Ro Kwun

Ro is a curious, compassionate and collaborative individual who has worked in operational and support roles for 10 years in the Tech Industry. She now pursues writing full-time and continues to connect with people to foster the humanity and compassion needed in the modern world through mindfulness sessions and talks.
You can follow her journey and reflections right here

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