“Who Cares?” about Family and Friends
“You don’t care, do you?”, “Who Cares?”, “I don’t care!”: Such phrases usually express discouragement or disdain. Pause and think about it. Can you remember an instance in which you said, or someone said to you, “I don’t care!” What brought that about? What happened as a result of that declaration? When was the last time you really felt somebody cared? What made you feel that way? How did you respond?
People in relationships often feel their friend/partner doesn’t care, thinking thoughts such as: “If they really cared, they wouldn’t forget, they would be on time, they would listen to what I think, they would ” Strong families, loyal friendships, intimate relationships and long-term business relationships all require some sort of care. So, to develop long-lasting, effective, contented relationships, people must be capable of showing they care. I will call the ability to demonstrate care our “Caring Capacity” (CC).
There are at least four different aspects to CC: Concern, Desire, Skill, and Purpose. All four must come together at the same time in order for a person to demonstrate the kind of care that enhances long-term relationships. There are also at least four different types of CC: Loyalty, Emotional Sensitivity, Appreciation and Acceptance.
Caring as a Process
Concern: Personal, caring action requires a person to consciously place such value on another person to think they are worth the effort required care. In order to adequately demonstrate care, a person must care “about” them.
Desire: Awareness isn’t enough. In order to demonstrate care, a person must feel emotions strong enough to motivate them to act upon their concern.
Skill: If a person can’t swim, it doesn’t matter how much they value someone and how strong their desire is to care for them, they can’t save their loved one from drowning in the river. In order to effectively demonstrate care, a person must have the skills required to do so. The skills required vary and become very complex. To say the right thing at the right time or listen without giving advice or change the bedfast elder father’s clothing without causing embarrassment require very specific skill sets. Marital enhancement and parenting classes often make a great difference because the people who take them have concern and desire, but lack skill.
Purpose: Acts of care that enhance long-term relationships must promote personal growth for the giver, the receiver and the “us” identity of the relationship. Care that doesn’t empower the receiver (enablement) or diminishes respect for the giver or weakens the friendship bond in any way, does not enhance relationships. Effective Caring Capacity must empower both parties and challenge them toward personal maturity. When mutual growth results from acts of car, so does respect and relational bonds of concern and desire to care in the future are enhanced.
Character Traits and Flaws
Caring Capacity is relevant to all ‘good’ relationships, but I am going to focus on marital relationship examples because they are among the easiest to explain.
Loyalty: Developing trust and commitment, and making one’s self openly vulnerable. When spouses learn one another’s strengths and limitations, they can collaborate to develop structures within their relationship and their environment to empower one another (e.g. a note on the door to the garage reminding their spouse of a task they need to do). Such collaboration flows out of commitment and builds greater commitment, along with trust and affection. Forgetting important tasks and arriving late all the time does not inspire trust. Unanticipated self-revelation can diminish commitment. Developing the CC of Loyalty helps the “we” factor of interdependence with the result that both partners feel special. They know there is care.
Emotional Sensitivity: Giving and receiving emotional support: empathy, sympathy, compassion, encouragement; giving and receiving appropriate affection.
Enduring relationships develop deep bonds as couples grow the CC of emotional sensitivity. Sometimes people just need a listening ear and other times they need their spouse to compassionately, yet bluntly, help them navigate a state of overwhelm. Our spouse feels care when we celebrate their victories. One person might help another balance their task oriented, Superman efforts with the ability to stop and smell the roses along the way, or, find sensitivity to appreciate the vase of roses given by their spouse. Impulsive honesty without sensitivity, however, can become judgment. Inappropriate, impulsive demonstrations of physical affection cause a spouse to feel like an object being manipulated, not intimacy and care.
Acceptance: Taking responsibility for mistakes, giving and receiving forgiveness, humility, self-worth.
All of us disappoint our loved ones. We make mistakes and bad choices. Somebody must clean up the mess. Mending the relationship requires the person at fault to feel healthy guilt, the ability to admit they messed up without losing self-respect. Taking responsibility for mistakes allows the spouse room to forgive. Forgiveness attributes great value upon the fallible partner, encouraging them to keep trying even with the risk of failure. Such caring acts of mutual acceptance deepen all the other CCs while growing humility in both partners, the ability to realize self-worth and self-acceptance in the face of adversity. Shirking responsibility or expressing blame, however, creates relational distance and replaces healthy interdependence with lonely independence.
Appreciation: Thankfulness and self-appreciation.
Without appreciation, the emotional motivation to continue caring diminishes. When one spouse demonstrates care and the other responds with gratitude, both partners develop self-respect, deeper emotional bonding and greater value for each other. Attitudes of entitlement and self-loathing hinder appreciation. Without acknowledgment, acts of care feel burdensome and become a competitive list of “you owe me” items; “let the games begin”!
The capacity to care helps people develop strong, long-term relationships: husband-wife, parent-child, BFF, co-workers, supervisors, etc. Awareness of these caring capacities can help us surround ourselves with an excellent support team that will help us, and them, to thrive.