Bother to Love
Amanda Kirk, MS
The kids had been arguing with each other most of the morning. Finally, she said, “Guys! That’s enough, stop bothering each other!”
Four-year-old Alex looked up earnestly and said, “But Mom, we have to bother each other, we love each other!”
She and her husband exchanged quick glances. “Out of the mouth of babes,” her husband said wryly.
Even those young children had started practicing something that we often carry in our relationships all the way through adulthood. Why do we keep “bothering” the ones we love the most? How is it that the ones closest to us, that mean the most to us, often get our worst rather than our best? After a long day of mostly grinning and bearing the annoyances and frustrations from acquaintances and even strangers, why do we come home and punish loved ones with a bad attitude and short temper?
Alas, the strange, quirky, and sometimes self-defeating human condition.
Now, I’m not suggesting that we simply reverse that and start “bothering” perfect strangers so we have some “niceness” left to bring home to the family. But I am suggesting that we may need to evaluate how we are treating those closest to us and why we excuse it because “that’s what you do when you’re family” and “she loves me, she’ll get over it” and “that’s just how I am” and “well I have to get it out to somebody” and so on.
Everybody gets to be in a bad mood sometimes. Everybody should have safe people in their lives to whom they can vent, knowing they are loved for the good, bad, and the ugly.
Everybody needs to also find and own where their frustration ends and the other person, often completely uninvolved in whatever was frustrating, begins. Sharing your frustration with someone can be healthy. Imposing your frustration on someone is generally unhealthy.
So how do you know which you are doing?
Make a mental list of the people you love the most (or better yet, write it down!). What kind of relationship do you want to have with them? Really think about it. Notice the question was “what do you want” it to be – not what it currently is, what it will inevitably be, or how it mirrors all the other relationships in your life or family or history. Dream a little about how you would want it to be.
Ask yourself, what word or phrase would they use to describe my general mood when I’m with them? Be brutally honest. Maybe even ask them to answer that question – and don’t allow yourself to get mad at them for their answer! No pouting or attacking when they tell you the truth. Are you kind? Joyful? Fun? Present? Stressed? Distracted? Judgmental? Cranky? Mad?
Then ask yourself, why am I (descriptive word or phrase) so often with those I love? If your answer starts with “Because they make me…”, stop yourself. Perhaps there is an unhealthy dynamic between you and a loved one that needs to be addressed, but we start getting into trouble when we place all the responsibility on another person or circumstance changing before looking at our own need for change.
Finally, ask yourself, what can I do today to treat my loved ones in a way that reflects the relationship I want with them? Depending on how entrenched the “bothering” has been in your relationships, it may feel awkward and uncomfortable to make a change. That’s okay. Give yourself grace and try. Then try again.
Having a positive relationship with someone close to you does not happen by accident. It requires intentional deposits of loving words and gestures, so it can also handle the inevitable withdrawals of cranky moments and negative emotions.
Need some tangible suggestions?
- Write a sweet note telling them one thing you appreciate about them.
- Stop what you’re doing to look them in the eye and tell them you love them.
- Take some deep breaths before walking in the door. Find something positive to say as soon as you walk in before downloading all the bad things that happened throughout the day.
- Ask a friend to hold you accountable to being kind to those around you.
- Make an appointment with a therapist to start working on any pent up or spilling over negativity that you can’t seem to manage on your own.
Hang in there. We all bother and get bothered from time to time. Let’s work on making that the exception, not the rule. We can do it. Our loved ones – and we – need and deserve it.