“I love you, Mary,” he said looking across the living room.
“Did you just get a text reminding you to say, ‘I love you,’” I raised my eyebrows.
“Yup,” Dad said. “I love you guys, and I don’t say it often enough.”
My siblings and I used to laugh at Dad’s text-inspired affection. The words were slightly foreign, and we wondered if it meant less because Dad had to be reminded to say I love you. Now I’m married and in my dad’s shoes. As embarrassing as it is to admit it, I have my Google calendar remind me three times a day to encourage my husband.
It’s cheesy, but I fell in love with Matt because he is the Captain America who would jump on a grenade to save others. He believes the best of everyone and loves no matter how much he’s being used. He’s a thrill-seeking nerd who gets as excited about white water rafting as a new aspect of thermodynamics. I’ve watched my negativity and criticism suck that excitement out of him like a vampire. It breaks my heart.
I’ve promised over and over again to be more encouraging and less critical. But positivity makes me squirm. My eyes divert, my cheeks redden, and my body fidgets. I’ll point out the flaws, but why mention something that’s not broken? I had a life of bad habits, and I needed to change them.
It may seem less heartfelt and spontaneous to get a calendar reminder to encourage Matt. And, yes, Matt feels that way sometimes. But what are my alternatives? Hope that a magical fairy works against my life-long habits and inspires me to be spontaneously affectionate? My conditioning made affection and praise seem patronizing and awkward. Impulsive encouragement wasn’t likely to happen. My only hope to inspire and not crush Matt was intentional discipline. Is that less loving?
Sure me being perfect would be preferred. But I cared enough to make new habits. I started simple, just a text message a day. Maybe it was a cop-out, but I communicate much better in writing and didn’t have to worry about Matt watching my embarrassment in person. I never had to conjure up things to say. There are always things I’m thankful for about Matt. But I’ve often had to say something cheesy and get past the cringe. And I’ve often had to say something encouraging when I wasn’t particularly happy or we’d just been fighting.
It’s been about a year since I started practicing encouragement. I’m still an amateur compared to my husband’s professional positivism. But the other day at work I complimented someone.
“Look at you giving a compliment,” she teased.
“Yeah, enjoy it,” I said. “It’ll probably be a while till you get another one.”
I realized that practicing has helped me to see more positive things around me. It was still awkward to compliment my coworker, but I have become much more acquainted with positivity. Laugh if you like, but I am going to continue to practice my scheduled affection. Maybe someday it will be natural.
Photo credit Debsilver.