Jason sat across from me sharing a story about how he always makes coffee for his wife, but she never does it for him.
He said, “One day I was sitting in my arm chair looking at the paper without looking up, and ranting about how she never does anything for me. Finally I noticed she wasn’t saying anything, and when I looked up, she had 2 cups of coffee in her hand. I felt like such a jerk. She’s such a good woman. I don’t know why I picked that day to complain about it.”
He sighed loudly and finished with, “I think I keep score of how I’ve helped her and how I think she hasn’t helped me in my head. I have to stop it. It’s really hurting my relationship.”
In Radically Open Dialectical Behavior Therapy (RO DBT) there is a skill called Kindness First and Foremost. One of the practice points says:
- Kindness first and foremost recognizes that when I lend a hand, it is because I choose to, not because I have been forced. My self-sacrifices are freely chosen; thus, those I help don’t owe me. I alone am responsible for my decisions to help or not help. (Lynch, 2018, 17.B)
No one was forcing Jason to help his wife. He chose to make coffee and deliver it to her, yet he had been keeping a “nice deeds bank” in his head, which was unintentionally building resentment. Instead of doing something nice freely, Jason had to realize he might be doing it because he believed that she should reciprocate.
Kindness can mean that we drop “banking” how helpful and kind we are, and simply do these acts, because they allow us to live by our value goals. Jason was able to realize that one of his value goals was to be a helpful, communicative and considerate husband, no matter what his wife did. He was even able to reflect on all the wonderful and helpful tasks his wife did for him, that he didn’t acknowledge enough like cooking dinner every night and saying thank you ever time he did something for her.
Kindness first and foremost means when you don’t know what to do (and especially when you feel resentful and unkind), default to being kind. Then you can allow yourself the time to reflect on how you want to act according to your value system. That tiny kindness pause can allow you the grace you to make a decision more in line with who you want to be and how you want to socially signal.