You Poor Thing

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When it comes to love relationships, our culture assumes that big moments are a big deal.

That’s what we see on the screen. 

Humphrey Bogart tenderly wraps his arms around a weepy Ingrid Bergman and she surrenders her heart.   A real man ought to embrace his woman while they lie together in the pounding surf, or boldly declare, “Nobody puts Baby in the corner.”  Romantic moments are larger-than-life, unrepeatable, Oscar-caliber moments.

Or consider those big moments in the marketplace. 

If you’re not in the mood to get seriously salt-encrusted on the beach, surprise your partner with a new car topped by a red bow.  Or maybe something sparkly in a small box.  Or maybe go for a medium-sized box.  After all, while a pound of chocolates doesn’t last forever, it may last up to 45 minutes. 

While it’s fun to receive special gifts, healthy love relationships aren’t cemented by retail purchases or Academy Award-worthy moments.  Romance in the real world rises and falls on small moments – a steady diet of little choices and incremental steps that are easy to overlook.   

According to marriage researcher John Gottman, relationships are glued together when partners, in myriad small ways, turn toward each other instead of turning away. 

In his book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work he writes: “Couples who turn toward each other remain emotionally engaged…” They “are storing up goodwill that will serve as a cushion during major stress or conflict.”

So how do we get there?  Choose to take your partner’s side.  

I cannot tell you how many times I have listened to Mary Sue express her frustration concerning something that happened in traffic, or how hard it was to connect with a real person in customer service, to which I have helpfully responded, “Maybe you should have started your trip earlier,” or, “That call center associate was probably just having a bad day.”  These are not particularly supportive remarks.  I can almost feel the curtain of pain and misunderstanding descending between us.

It’s not that I don’t adore my wife.  Or provide for her.  Or assure her that I would gladly stand between her and a swarm of Asian murder hornets.  Or that (as I suspect), Brad Pitt feels strangely inadequate whenever he and I are in the same room.

It’s just that I so often miss the little moment – that little opportunity to let her know that I am on her side.

Gottman proclaims the power of three magic words:  You poor thing.

Before we say anything else – even if we are fairly certain that the person to whom we have made lifetime promises has indeed acted like a blockhead – we need to convey to each other, “I’m on your side.  You poor thing.  How awful it must have been to be in that situation.”  That’s what it means to turn toward each other. 

Healthy relationships run on the fuel of honor and respect.  That’s surely at the root of the apostle Paul’s statement in Romans 12:10:  “Be devoted to each other.”

We can make big plans that we hope will lead to big moments. 

Or we can do something less dramatic that will almost certainly be more powerful:

During each of today’s little moments, assure the one you love that you are on their side.