The more I work with couples and families, the more it becomes evident how tenderness creates a foundation for healing, change and open conversation. When we approach those we love in a caring manner, we can help diffuse points of conflict and establish a needed sense of safety which fortifies the emotional bonds between us. Being harsh, critical or defensive in our responses has the opposite effect, and easily leads to a process of emotional distancing with our spouse and children.
Tenderness Through Self-Reflection
That being said, we need to acknowledge that it can be very difficult to be tender or loving when we feel hurt, angry, scared and alone. This is why we must take the time needed to become aware of the emotions we're experiencing, calm ourselves down, or consider how to approach our spouse, son or daughter in a tender manner that will help them actually hear (i.e., remain emotionally present) and understand our thoughts, needs and emotions.
The Destructiveness of Lashing Out
Lashing out and being reactive will shut them down, or draw them into a heated conflict where the potential for understanding each other and resolving needed concerns is lost. Moreover, if we sense or determine in conversation that our loved one is feeling hurt, scared, angry or alone based on our interactions, this provides all the more reason to be tender with them. Doing otherwise would risk the loss of safety, trust, connection and understanding between us.
Tenderness as a Daily Endeavor
In conclusion, my challenge to all of us is to develop a daily practice of building safety and trust in our relationship with our spouse and children by treating them with a consistent tenderness which strengthens the emotional bonds and helps us mend from prior moments of conflict. When we look back, I'm confident we will largely be glad we made the decision to make this a vital part of how we engage those we love most.
Mark 12:31 - "Love your neighbor as yourself."