Why are We So Tough on Those We Love?

Robert Terson

A dear friend of mine—we’ll call her Joan—has three grown children, two daughters and a son; all are happily married with children of their own; all are living successful lives, which, in my opinion, is concrete evidence that Joan and her husband did a fine job of raising them. The older daughter, the middle child—let’s call her Betty—is exceedingly hard on her mother—a lot of sarcasm, rolling eyes, and challenging, biting retorts—typical teenage behavior, which, it seems, she never outgrew. She’ll often not pick up when Joan calls, which is from halfway across the country. Joan frets about this situation with Betty, has shed many a tear over it, but has avoided a major confrontation; she loves her daughter and doesn’t want to lose her, to say nothing of her three grandchildren.

My wife, Nicki, just retired from Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Illinois. Nicki worked at Lutheran General, in one capacity or another, for 38 years. Her last job was in Customer Service. Her job called for a great deal of tact when interacting with sometimes angry, impatient patients, visitors, and other non-employees, even more so when dealing with fellow employees, who, alas, don’t always exhibit the professionalism Nicki has alwaysdemanded of herself. Nicki wouldn’t never of even thought of speaking sarcastically to any of these people, no matter how frustrated she got; and, believe me, she ran into more frustrating situations than a one-armed paperhanger. At home, though, with me?—not a problem: this loving, incredible woman occasionally will unleash a sarcastic torrent out of nowhere, over something absolutely so trivial, that’ll leave me agape, staring in utter disbelief.

Why? Why behave so perfectly with strangers and fellow employees, but let loose on the man she loves? Why does Betty exhibit so much patience with practically the entire world except her own mother? Is this not the universe turned topsy-turvy, the opposite of the way it should be? Not really. It’s actually the norm: we’re not safewith strangers or people we work with, but we’re quite safe with those who love us, who will cut us the kind of slack no stranger or fellow employee ever would. That’s what it comes down to—safety. That’s why usually we’re so much nicer, so much more considerate of outsiders than the folks we live with and love. There you have it—it shouldn’t be that way, but it is.

The challenge for you, for me, for all of us, is to overcome this pernicious phenomenon; to treat the people we love with the same courtesy and restraint we proffer outsiders. So let me suggest you take up a 30-day exercise to do just that. The people who love you will adore you for it. More importantly, you’ll love yourself for it.

The more love, understanding, and restraint you exhibit at home, the more you’ll get back in return. Doesn’t that sound like a sensational deal?


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