When an action does not come naturally to you, it is a greater expression of love.
— Gary Chapman, The 5 Love
As a toddLer, my daughter did not want to be comforted right away when she got hurt. After an injury, no matter how minor, she needed 30 seconds to process the trauma.
Unfortunately, those 30 seconds were filled with loud cries and panicked breathing. Her shrieks got louder if I approached before she was ready.
This made for some awkward play dates. Numerous times we were with friends and my daughter would have a minor accident, like falling on the sidewalk. She’d begin wailing, her knee bleeding for all to see.
Observing that I, her mother, was standing several feet away, quietly watching, one parent would advance. “Oh! Is she all right? Does she need a Band-Aid?”
I was then forced to step protectively in between my daughter and the Good Samaritan. “Just wait,” I’d say. “Believe me, she doesn’t like to be helped right away.”
My daughter was unusual. Most people in crisis, regardless of age, want help as quickly as possible. So, when given the chance, we rush in to help. We respond as we would like others to respond to us.
It was difficult for me to understand that my daughter also wanted attention, just at a distance. She wanted aid, but in her own way and time. Caring for her meant doing what was contrary to my initial impulses and how I would want to be cared for.
Over the years I’ve seen this same formula played out time and again. With the best of intentions, we offer others what we would want — and, to our bewilderment, we make the situation worse.
I’ve come to believe that following the Golden Rule quite often means doing unto others as you would not have done to you.
I’ll give an example from my marriage. (Rest assured, I have permission from my husband to share this.)
When my husband sees that I’m upset about something, he tries to deescalate the situation with pacifying words: “It isn’t a big deal.” “She didn’t mean anything by it.”
This is not a successful strategy. Instead of feeling supported, I feel my husband is on their side, and I become equally mad at him.
For my part, when I see my husband stressed or unhappy, I immediately want to care for him by going to war. I rant about the people who are treating him wrongly. I offer to march down to their office and talk to them myself. Right this very minute.
This results in my husband becoming doubly stressed. He has his previous problem, plus a wife who needs mollifying.
Luckily, 21 years of marriage has taught us that we sometimes need to show love in ways that come unnaturally to us. We have to learn a script that the other person needs to hear, even though we would never find those words or actions within ourselves.
Recently a friend asked me for a favor and then changed her mind at the last minute, after I had changed my plans to accommodate her need. I was irritated and felt disrespected. When I told my husband, he said simply, “That sounds really annoying, and I’m sorry she did that.”
It was miraculous. Once my feelings were validated and I had an ally, I realized the situation wasn’t worth the energy I was pouring into it.
Another time, my husband was upset that an important work order he had been requesting for months was being ghosted. But instead of storming the dean’s office, he would prefer that I argue for the other side: “I’m sure they are swamped with beginning-of-the-year issues.”
Never in a million years would I think to take that tactic. It makes zero sense to me to give the offending party the benefit of the doubt.
But my husband is a better person. It gives him pain to think ill of others, and he longs to dispel the drama. He’d much rather the conflict be caused by unlucky timing than by malicious intent.
My little girl is in her teens now and rarely needs a Band-Aid. But the lesson is still true. It is true of all my children, my husband, friends and family. They all need to be loved in their way, not mine.