When I lived in Massachusetts, my good friend Bill would drive across the state to visit. He would always bring his tools with him so that he could help me with my various house projects. He would cheerfully help me repair whatever was broken — or I should say, I would assist him, since I have no idea how to fix anything.
When my wife passed out at the gym while I was out of town, my friend Patti showed up to help. She spent 24 hours keeping an eye on her while I flew home. And when my daughter crossed the finish line after running a marathon, my friend Tracy was there to help.
Love and friendship aren’t just about having fun together or hanging out on a summer afternoon. Love is not just a feeling — it has to manifest itself in deeds of loving kindness to be experienced as love by someone else.
Over the years, I have seen many marriages come to a sad end, and not from a lack of professed love. Often, one partner is completely in the dark about the reason. Joe cries, “I don’t understand why Linda is leaving me! I’ve always loved her. She should know that!” But Linda replies, “That’s what he always says to me. But he’s never there when I need him. He’s always doing something else.”
Work can also impose family challenges too. Mary’s job requires weeks of travel every month. She calls her daughter from Japan. Her 8-year old daughter says, “Mom, I miss you so much — please come home soon!”
So how can we show up for each other?
By listening with 100% of our attention. Listening to our friends, family and loved ones is an act of love. All too often, we are listening but not with our full attention. We’re glancing at our phone, reading a text or looking at the TV. Being 100% present for our loved ones is a gift and powerful message of love. It’s always appreciated.
By going the extra mile. Parents of young children are often tired. Moms and dads of teenagers are often stressed. Adult children of elderly adults are often overwhelmed. When your loved one needs that extra hand, even though you’re bushed, offer it. These small acts of kindness are welcomed — folding laundry, putting the kids to bed, washing the dishes or running to the supermarket. It’s the little things in life that add up into a big thing.
By performing good deeds in secret. When you do a small deed to help a loved one, do it quietly. Don’t make a big deal over it — that looks more like a loan to be repaid than a loving gift.
By being there when you’re needed or wanted. I don’t always enjoy going on a bike ride, but I always join my wife when she asks me to come with her. When it’s important to a friend or a loved one, cancel your plans. Showing up when you’re needed is an act of love.
By expressing your appreciation. Make it a point to let other people know how much you appreciate their friendship, their showing up for you and their fellowship. Don’t assume that they “know” how you feel. Small gifts and cards are great ways to express your gratitude.
By saying no. Sometimes saying no to someone else enables you to show up for your loved ones. Is it really necessary to attend that work meeting in Phoenix? Or is it more important to show up at your daughter’s basketball game?
Paul Schoenfeld is a clinical psychologist at The Everett Clinic. His Family Talk blog can be found at www.everettclinic.com/family-talk-blog.