The old phrase TLC or Tender Love and Care is used quite often. But in our daily lives, as a life skill, how much do we put it into practice? Take the scenario below:
It is 10:00 PM on Sunday evening. Kate is exhausted and frustrated. “I try so hard” she says to her husband Vince, who is already in bed, ready to sleep. “Honey, you have to relax. The kids are fine” he says. “Relax?” she says, “Do you not realize what happened? Nathan was so angry with me that he threw his bike down in the middle of the street and kicked it. I am not doing a good job as a mom”. She said in a sad voice. “Well, you did come down a little bit too hard on him with his maneuvering the bike” he said. “He was refusing to try, I felt like he needed a little pushing. You don’t understand; Your mind was elsewhere. You could have helped me out you know. Kids are not bushes; They don’t grow on their own. They have feelings and need emotional care taking”. She said as her sad voice was turning into an almost angry voice. “Yes, I do understand . How can you say that? I work all these hours, so we can have a better life.” He responded. Then he followed by saying “Honey, I am tired, and I need to go to sleep. I don’t want to get into anything right now”. This is when she really got angry and blew. “You are tired? You? You were watching T.V. while I was cooking, cleaning and doing the laundry all morning. Then after the bike ride, you took a nice 1 hour nap, while I was mulling over what happened on the bike ride!”. “I did everything you asked me to do today. You sent me out to air the bikes, walk the dog, make salad, and I did. If you needed more help, you could have just asked.” “ I have to ask for everything don’t I? You can’t use your own judgment can you? God forbid, you put yourself out a little on weekends”.
Turning his back while he lays in the bed, he says “I am going to sleep, good night, I love you”. She gets up from the bed, grabs her pillow and leaves the room. “ I can’t believe you can just sleep like that when you know I am upset like this”.
What just happened here? Is Vince a total Jerk? Is Kate a drama queen and a demanding wife? No. They are both very nice people. We know because we have met them in couple’s counseling. They are madly in love and have a happy marriage most of the time. Well, this is an example of the difference between how men and women feel loved and appreciated. Kate felt disappointed at what happened earlier in the day with the children. When she turned to Vince, she was looking at him to take care of her emotionally; may be giving her reassurance that she is a good mom. That the kids know she loves them, that she does so much and that Nathan will not remember that she yelled at him. It’s not that what Vince said has no validity, but rather that Kate needed something different at that point in time.
As Kate was talking to Nathan, although late in the day, she was probing him to help her calm down. She was asking without words that she needs his emotional support. He on the other hand, was thinking that she was attacking him and suggesting he was not doing enough. Hence he responded with a defensive response and explained his work hours etc. Why did their evaluation of the situation lead to unfavorable outcomes?
Difference between caring for vs. taking care of our loved ones
- Caring for a loved one, could be expressed through acts of kindness such as washing the car, making food, watering the lawn, doing the dishes, and other “acts of kindness”. Making money, and financially supporting the other, falls under this category as well.
- Taking care of our loved ones is not necessarily actions, but rather an introspective and emotionally intelligent thought process and showing acceptance. Being in the moment, respecting their time, privacy, limitations, and feelings.
What happens between couples, and more so in marriages because expectations for marriages are higher than other forms of relationships especially when there are children involved, the couple resorts back to their ego-centric self. This is the part of the self that is “me focused”, fragile and judgmental. This part of the self, especially under times of stress, where one could be super critical of oneself, can be self-serving, self-punishing and confused. It can be harsh, unrealistic, unkind, and/or controlling.
In my practice, I always invite my couples to look for the hidden clues. Clues could be in words, body language, or time spent. In the example above, all three clues were marked by Kate. Two word clues set forth by Kate were “I try so hard” and “you don’t understand”. Also, through the time spent by Vince, and witnessing what had taken place, he was clued into the fact that Kate could be feeling guilty. Although on the surface, it may seem Kate was attacking Vince when she said “you don’t understand”, she was actually asking him to understand her plight. He instead, responded by offering a solution “You just need to relax” which could come across as preaching if not patronizing.
What would have been better would be for him to reach out, hold her hand, or give her a hug and say, something in the lines of “you do try hard sweetheart” or “honey, you are not supposed to be perfect” or “sweetie, please don’t be so hard on yourself, you are great”.
On the other hand, what could have Kate done, instead of trying to console in her husband at what he was suggesting was the wrong time? It is quite obvious that both of these individuals “Care for” one another. But did they “take care of” one another. Kate could have respected Vince’s boundaries. She could have trusted the fact that he was not coming from a place of not caring, but rather a place of safety. Vince could have possibly done a quick assessment of his emotional inventory and realized that he was too tired to listen and therefore, in avoiding conflict, in case he said the wrong thing, he took the path of least resistance and said “ I need to get to sleep”. This is of course, not knowing or realizing that he had the option discussed above, which didn’t take too much time at all.
Steps for taking care
- Always take an emotional inventory of where you are and where the other person is before beginning a Dialogue
- Set a goal and imagine a vision for what you are looking for in starting the dialogue
- Communicate what that goal is to your partner clearly.
- Wait and see if there is a commonality in goals without expectations.
- Accept rather than force a solution.
In final, let’s do a replay of what could have transpired between Kate and Vince. If Kate had clearly practiced step 3 rather than assume that Vince could read the cues, she could have probably received the support she was hoping for. On the other hand, if Vince would have practiced step 1, he could have likely noticed that what Kate was looking for was not an assessment of what had happened, but rather reassurance.
Relationships are hard business
Many assume that Love means being a know it all. That is not love; It’s fortune telling. Love takes patience, and understanding, and humility and practice of all of the above. Distinguishing between Caring for and Taking care of our loved ones, helps us stay grounded, and humble at times where we naturally gravitate toward being egocentric and setting ourselves up by high expectations and false automatic negative thoughts. It’s not Tender Love. It’s not Tender Care. It’s Tender Love and Care. We need to take care of our own needs first, and then be a spokesperson for communicating them clearly to our partners, or significant others and allow them to feel safe in doing the same.