An Underrated Characteristic of Healthy Relationships

An Underrated Characteristic of Healthy Relationships

Marriage & Parenting

As teenagers and young adults, my peers and I were often encouraged to think ahead regarding what sort of qualities we wanted in a future spouse.

We made “The List.”

Loves Jesus                  Check.

Handsome/Pretty         Wowza.

Funny                           LOL.

Smart                           Brilliant.

Rich                             Has potential.

Similar interests         Amazingly, he/she loves all my favorite activities!

What was on your list of “husband/wife material”?

The List had levels, of course. Spiritual qualities ranked above physical attributes (or did they?), followed by all things we would have in common, along with more “mature” characteristics that would enable us to succeed in life. Our lists hid inside journals or got lost in computer files. Some of us tried to forget them entirely.

Eventually, my friends and I graduated from mere daydreaming and began experiencing the adult dating life, for better or worse. The older we got, the more we evaluated acquaintances and dates as potential spouses. And for those of us who married, we finally got to see how our idealism matched up with reality.

Help Wanted

When I realized my dating relationship had some serious potential, I thought back to The List I’d made. He was good looking, loved Jesus (see that order?), smart, had so much in common with me . . . He checked a lot of the boxes. But so had a couple of other guys I’d previously dated. Surely there was something I’d missed.

I turned to a friend with over a decade of marriage experience. “What do I look for? How do I know?”

Among many important characteristics, she told me, don’t neglect one basic quality:

“Is he kind?”

She elaborated: “How does he treat his mother? What little things do you notice about how he acts around other people, including you? Do you see arrogance or gentleness, selfishness or a servant’s heart? When you mess up, how does he react?” Not a concept I’d considered for The List, but she had a point.

Key to God's Character

Sometimes people misunderstand kindness, thinking of it as somehow weak. But God himself is described as kind, shown in his sending of Jesus. The apostle Paul warned those who would reject Christ: “Do you despise the riches of his kindness, restraint, and patience, not recognizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4). God wants us to trust his Son. In Jesus, he shows how eager he is for us to turn toward him, the one who offers new life.

Jesus was often motivated by compassion for the hurting and confused. His hands healed blind eyes and deaf ears, his eyes overflowed in empathetic grief, his teaching brought life to dead hearts. And through the thorns and scourging and nails borne on Calvary, “the kindness of God our Savior and his love for mankind appeared—he saved us . . .” (Titus 3:4–5). The cross was kindness in action.

When we give ourselves to Christ, he gives himself to us through the Spirit. We begin to reflect God’s values in our relationships with others. Paul tells us that “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22–23).

There it is—kindness. Not weak or submissive, but strong and active. Kind people serve others, sometimes at great cost to themselves. Kind spouses put each other first, seeking ways to empower, uplift, energize, and equip the one they committed their lives to.

What does it look like?

Kindness is love in action. Healthy relationships simmer like soup on low heat: tiny bubbles of kind acts, some behind the scenes, enrich the flavor and warmth of the relationship. The little things count. No grandiose acts required. Rather, kindness can look like the smallest gesture:

A steaming cup of coffee waiting on the kitchen counter.

A text checking in to see how your appointment went.  

Asking a follow-up question after you’ve shared a difficult moment from your day.

An apology for forgetting to do whatever you asked them to help with.

Praising your latest accomplishment to their colleagues.

What does kindness from your spouse look like to you? Don’t be surprised if you have to stop for a few moments to think—not because your spouse isn’t kind, but because often we don’t recognize and acknowledge our spouse’s little acts of love. Once you start noticing, find ways to communicate your appreciation and gratitude.

What kindness have you offered your spouse today? In the days to come, make them feel seen and cared for with small and big gestures. Be intentional in putting him or her first in ways you haven’t considered in the past.

Notice the examples of small kindnesses listed above can apply to any relationship, not just a marriage. All friendships thrive on kindness. How can you show it to your friends, roommates, colleagues, and neighbors?

If you’ve written The List in your mind, on paper, or via your online dating profile, double-check your priorities. My friend’s advice clinched it for me, and I’ve been reaping the benefits for over twenty-five years.  

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Kelley Mathews

Writer, RightNow Media

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