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The Art of Swallowing

Perhaps relationship bliss is that simple: swallowing an easy-to-fling, hard-to-retract jibe, and instead being polite. It might just bring us closer to the peace we crave, at very little cost.
08/31/2014 10:10am ET | Updated December 6, 2017
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Although Hollywood may try to convince us otherwise, the truth is that relationships are not built on grand romantic gestures. They're not even built on medium-sized ones. They are actually based on the tiny-but-cumulative acts of daily love within a partnership. The little things that make up a life of days.

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In my 20s, if you'd asked me, I would have listed fancy dinners, exciting dates and bunches of flowers as the indicia of a loving relationship. Now, however, it's all about the little things -- him listening to my 10th work story with a smile on his face, me making him breakfast in the morning, both of us picking up the bathmat when we're done. When faced with the reality of domesticity and the drudge of the daily grind, the little acts of love are the important ones.

The flip-side of this is also true. I believe that the little gibes of annoyance and frustration that we sling at our partners may be the most damaging. It is not the dramatic fights and massive blow-ups, but the low-level bickering that hurts our relationships most.

Which is where the art of swallowing comes into play. (No, not that kind of swallowing!) What I'm talking about is this: perhaps the tiny barbs we swallow in the name of love may just be the grandest gestures of romance we have.

It is oh-so-easy to blurt out our frustrations and annoyances at our partner without a second thought. After all, they know us best, they are the ones we can be truly ourselves with, they're not going to run away if we are a Right Royal Pain for a moment or two. So when the murkier elements of our personalities bubble to the surface from time to time (which is inevitable for all of us), our partners can be the most logical person to let it out on.

You know what I'm talking about. Picture this: You've been waiting for ages at the check-out counter, and although you're far too 'enlightened' to take it out on the teenage cashier, you're not above being extra snappy when your partner accidentally jostles you with the trolley. Or say you've had a really long day at work, and all you want to do is watch Game of Thrones in peace, but your partner keeps yapping on about their plans for the weekend. Or perhaps your partner has left the sodden bathmat on the floor for the 17th time that week, and you really want to let him have a piece of your mind.

All of us have these moments of frustration, annoyance, anger even. It's human nature. But these little flashes can be incredibly destructive to a relationship. They are easy to fall into, they start out subtly, and their harmful effects are cumulative. What begins as insidious becomes ubiquitous, until those moments of bickering and contempt become the ever-present, accepted norm.

But these little moments can also be the key to massive growth. Both on a personal level, and within the relationship. They are the little cracks through which light can be allowed in, if only you will let it.

If we can work on becoming aware during those moments where our instinct is to lash out, we can start to create change. Instead of giving in to the urge, we can seek to swallow it, let it dissolve, and focus on something revolutionary: being polite to our partner.

Yes, polite. Politeness is an excellent yardstick to aim for: it is achievable, easily recognized and most of us have plenty of experience being polite in social interactions when we'd rather not be. When our innards are in conflict-mode, it can be difficult to make any sort of complex behavioral decision, but polite... polite, we can do. It is such a simple thing to aspire to, which actually gives me far more hope for its success than if it were a complicated philosophical theory requiring actual brain power.

Swallowing and politeness... Perhaps relationship bliss is that simple: swallowing an easy-to-fling, hard-to-retract jibe, and instead being polite. It might just bring us closer to the peace we crave, at very little cost.

Please note that in no way am I advocating swallowing abuse or covering up suffering -- I firmly believe that honesty and openness are the pillars of a good relationship. It's the trifles I'm talking about here -- the tiny little bees in our petty little bonnets. The things that we look back on an hour or two later and wonder what the hell was wrong with us.

It's these that I'm trying to swallow.

If we can perfect this art of swallowing and instead just be polite, well... it may just be the biggest gift of love we can give.