Virtual Caring vs. Natural Kindness

Five hacks for enhancing your relationships.

Posted Sep 23, 2019

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Source: Shutterstock

It was intriguing: a brief newspaper item about a new relationship enhancement app called Monaru. Once programmed with your significant relationships and their likes and interests, it will make regular suggestions about specific things you can do to please them, surprise them, and generally keep your connection close.

It made me wonder. Has it come to that: We are so busy, so clueless, so disconnected that we need virtual coaching to be nice to those we love?

In some ways, why not? We rely on our Fitbits to let us know if we slept well. We get our favorite music playlists, notifications, and alarms from Alexa. Why not an electronic nudge to remind us to reach out to someone we love and let him or her know how much we care?

On the other hand, you can save the $20 a month you would pay for Monaru and re-discover some relationship enhancement skills you may have already. Put down that iPhone. Take a break from Facebook or from work. And think for a moment. What can you do on your own to express your love for someone special?

1. Stop and listen. 

In a world that values multi-tasking (and, in some instances, an inexplicable mental contortion called multi-minding), it’s a rare and wonderful gift to a loved one to stop and listen fully to what they are saying. There are so many cues and clues you can pick up simply by paying attention to what others say, what they tell you about the people and things that matter most to them.

Maybe you’ll hear your spouse remembering the fun of going to a Rolling Stones concert in his or her youth, and you can pick up tickets to catch them on their latest amazing tour. Maybe you will notice some beloved friends talking with tenderness or fervor about people and interests in their lives. One friend may delight over grandchildren; another may share with you the blessing of her religious faith supporting her through a difficult time.

Even if these interests are not your own, they can give you opportunities to honor your friends’ passions and priorities and grow closer in the process. Giving another the gift of simply being seen and heard in an ever more divided and indifferent world is a blessing indeed.

2. Plan ways to make a difference. 

Once you’ve heard what matters to those you love, plan to show you care. How can you honor a loved one’s interests and wishes? What would be a lovely surprise? What little gestures or gifts or words might please him or her? Planning to make a positive difference in another’s life is a pleasure in itself!

3. Realize that the thought really does count. 

Pleasing another doesn’t mean coming up with an endless stream of gifts and goodies. Sometimes the greatest gift you can give is simply remembering—a birthday, an anniversary, one of his or her children’s or grandchildren’s special talents or achievements or challenges (and asking about it), or a problem he or she was having at work, or a special concern that person shared with you a while back.

Asking how he or she is doing with that or what happened next shows that you listened, cared, and that he or she continues to be in your thoughts. Remembering what matters to another can enhance your relationship a great deal.

4. Appreciation and gratitude are gifts that keep on giving. 

We so often forget to express these sentiments to those we love most. We assume they know already. We become accustomed to their kindness or thoughtfulness and perhaps begin to take them for granted.

A friend who has been married for more than 40 years told me recently that “I know my wife loves me. She says so every day. What I really need to hear, though, is that she appreciates me and what I do for her. It’s not that I’m looking for praise. Just that she catches me doing something nice and thanks me. That's all. That's everything.”

My wonderful Aunt Evelyn, married for more than 50 years, would concur. She once advised me that appreciation and gratitude go both ways: “I have found that when I’m thoughtful and appreciative of my husband, this kindness and gratitude comes back to me many times over," she said. "People often don’t realize what a lovely stream of sweetness can begin with that first kind word or gesture.”

5. The gift of your time matters most of all. 

Flowers are nice. Thoughtful, surprise gifts are fun. But the gift of yourself, spending time with another, can be the best of all. This might mean a special date night each week with a spouse. It can mean carving time out of a busy evening to sit together and talk, even if it’s just for a few minutes between dinner, kids’ homework, baths, and bedtime. Making time with each other a priority, even in small increments, can go a long way toward keeping you close.

Texting and email can help you keep in touch with faraway friends. But hearing your voice or seeing you can mean so much more. Call a friend you haven’t talked with in a while to express your interest and caring about what’s going on in his or her life.

Arrange a visit with a distant friend or, if you live reasonable driving distance from each other, meet halfway between your towns for a special lunch, time to catch up and to ask “How are you really?” Look into each other's eyes. Wait for and listen carefully to a response. Being together, sharing your thoughts and lives, really listening to each other, and expressing your gratitude for this special person, means so very much.

Whether you choose to enhance your relationships with electronic assistance or via low-tech caring or a combination of both, what’s most important is making an effort to stay close and connected to those who matter most in your life.