The couple in the picture above are at odds with each other. They are pulling away. Couples do this when they think that the things they care about don’t matter to their spouse.
If something matters to your spouse, it should matter to you.
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In the movie, “The Break Up” with Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Anniston, the couple have an argument over doing the dishes together following a dinner party at their apartment. Brooke asks Gary for help. Gary resists.
Brooke: Gary, you know that I do not like waking up to a kitchen full of dirty dishes.
Gary: Who cares?!
Brooke: I care.
Gary: Fine, I’ll help you do the damn dishes.
Brooke: That’s not what I want.
Gary: You just said you want me to help you do the dishes.
Brooke: I want you to want to do the dishes.
Gary: Why would I want to do the dishes?
What mattered to Brooke–cleaning the kitchen, did not matter to Gary. Nor did the 12 lemons she asked him to bring home. He brought 3. She wanted him to take her to a ballet. He hates ballet.
This scene illustrates an all too familiar pattern in relationships–an absence of mutual care.
What is Mutual Care?
Let’s begin with a definition of the word mutual – a feeling or an action done or experienced by two individuals toward each other. Mutual care is a pattern of doing things in a relationship that matter to the person for whom it is intended.
Here’s how my wife and I do it. What matters to Marian is walks at the Arboretum, dinner dates, and being tucked into bed. What matters to me is orderliness, dinner dates, and being greeted with a kiss and a cup of coffee in the morning. We have a pattern of doing these things for each other. It’s not a chore. Simply put, it’s being considerate.
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When mutual care functions relationships flourish. It establishes security, builds trust, reduces conflict, and increases intimacy. When it is absent couples drift and become polarized in power struggles.
3 proven ways to develop mutual care
Listen to what matters to your spouse
There is a big difference between hearing and listening. Hearing is audible. Listening is actionable. Listening at a caring level requires action on your part. If financial health matters to your spouse then be more disciplined in your use of the credit card. On the other hand, if physical health matters to you, then your spouse should include a health club membership in the family budget. Make sense?
Learn to like what matters to your spouse
Gary does not have to learn to like ballet. But he can learn to like how Brooke feels when he takes her on occasion.
I don’t enjoy British film, but I do watch it on occasion with Marian. I like how her eyes brighten and that she snuggles up to me. Now here’s an admission–I do like a few shows, but not a steady diet.
When we do things that matter to our spouses it makes them feel cared for–like they matter. This increases positive sentiment in the relationship and the likelihood your spouse will do things that matter to you. Marian has come to understand my appreciation of order and has learned to like it too.
Let your spouse know his/her effort matters
Establishing a pattern of mutual care requires positive feedback. Criticism has no place here. It takes a mutual effort to try and a mutual effort to support the try. Make sense?
You’re more likely to be successful if you agree together to try to do what matters to each other and acknowledge each other’s efforts. A positive feedback loop will generate more effort than criticism. The repeated effort to act on what matters establishes the pattern of mutual care.
Your Next Move
What is your next move in developing mutual care? Maybe it’s reading the article with your spouse and talking about it together. Perhaps it’s generating a list of things you think matters to your spouse and sitting together to see if you got it right or are missing something. What do you know to do now that matters to your spouse that you can put into action?
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