I'm an optimist but even I'm noticing the prolific increase in divisiveness across all walks of life of late, whether it's a sports story that divides our opinions, a business story that pokes at raw nerves, or a story about education that sparks heated disagreement. So it's really nice when you come across fresh counsel on how to bolster bonds instead of bust them.
I discovered it courtesy of popular Swiss-born British author, philosopher, and relationship expert Alain de Button and a video he recently released for the BBC. In it, Button lays down an insightful doozy of a sentence that pinpoints the key to happy relationships, in a way I haven't heard it put before.
"We should be grateful that anyone is putting up with us."
Button went on to call this guidance the bedrock for mutual tolerance.
Here's why this is such brilliant advice.
While at first glance this may sound like the exaggerated, humor-tinged words of someone being self-deprecating, there's so much truth and wisdom packed into this one sentence.
First of all, it recognizes the fundamental truth that none of us are perfect. Relationships often sour when one (or both) of those involved act without empathy and acceptance, as if they didn't have their own laundry list of frustrating foibles.
One of the most unsatisfying workplace relationships I ever had was with a boss who wouldn't accept constructive feedback. He was quick to criticize, slow to praise, and tone-deaf to his own opportunities. The relationship ran off his position power, not his personal power, largely because he wouldn't open up as a person and get in touch with his own issues. (Let's just say he doesn't come over for Monday Night Football and pizza rolls).
So beyond merely recognizing imperfection and embracing humility, the advice also encourages a spirit of greater self-awareness and self-improvement. If you want happier relationships, you certainly should strive to be better than someone that the other "can put up with".
You want to put up the effort so there's less of you to put up with.
This advice also recognizes that sacrifices are required from the other person in a relationship. When you recognize those sacrifices, you want to minimize and make up for them. You want to be worth the effort and so you strive to be.
After a nearly 30-year relationship with my wife, I've certainly learned that I'm no picnic. But I'm more cognizant than ever of my shortfalls and I try to never take it for granted that I require work.
The idea that gratitude is required for anyone putting up with you also highlights the importance of gratitude in general. If I could laser in on one thing the world needs now more than ever (other than for the next season of Game of Thrones to get here already) it's gratitude.
In all my most cherished relationships at work or in life, I find myself both willfully and subconsciously expressing gratitude to that person for what they bring to my life. Gratitude returns gratitude and generates even more things worthy of showing gratitude for. Here are some tips on how to show more gratitude, by the way.
Finally, I think Button's inspired singular sentence underscores the reality that in any great relationship, you're lucky to have found each other.
In this vast universe, there's a ton of oil and water that don't mix, a myriad of combustible combinations. The fact that you found each other and have such a rewarding relationship to nurture in the first place is a small frickin' miracle.
The other way to look at it is to realize that in the great galaxy of options the other person has chosen to have a relationship with you.
So feel fortunate and know that while you may not exactly be the perfect shining star in anyone's galaxy, with a little work you can still be an even brighter beacon of light.