One of my favourite movies is Gwyneth Paltrow’s Sliding Doors. It’s at least a decade old now, but every time I see it I end up pondering its message. The movie follows a woman's life in two possible scenarios, based on whether or not she missed a subway or whether she caught it at just the right time.
We often think that the pivotal moments in our lives are the big ones: when we propose; when we recite our vows; when we accept a job; have a child; purchase a house. But I'm starting to think the really pivotal moments are far smaller—so small we may not recognize they are pivotal.
Like Sliding Doors, one little decision that we make can launch a chain reaction in our own lives. Take a marriage, for instance. People don't just divorce because one Sunday afternoon it occurs to them that this person they married is a stranger. It happens gradually, by the little decisions that we make together.
He decides to start working harder to get that promotion, and it becomes easier to just grab dinner on the run rather than making an effort to come home. She becomes wrapped up in the kids’ lives, and when he does make it home, she’s busy reading to them. He forges some great friendships at work, where he spends most of his time, and shares with them about his career goals. She makes some friends in chat rooms, and starts sharing with them about her insecurities. He’s asked to work through a weekend, and he says yes without checking with her first. When he comes home late, she gives him the cold shoulder. And soon the only thing they talk about are the kids. The relationship has faded. And yet it wasn’t due to any one thing; it was a series of small decisions.
As depressing as that scenario may be, though, the opposite is also true. When she decides to kiss him when he comes in the door (or when she comes in the door), even if she’s grumpy from the day, she builds goodwill. When he wants to watch a game, but he puts that aside because she obviously needs to talk, he builds goodwill. When she makes a point of ensuring the kids make Father’s Day cards, or when he helps the kids make breakfast in bed for her, they build goodwill.
When she thanks him for the work he does around the house, even when she wishes he would do more, she builds goodwill. When he talks to the kids about what a great mom they have, while she’s in earshot, even if the family has eaten take out for the last two nights because life’s been too chaotic to cook, he builds goodwill.
It works in other important relationships, too. When parents don’t erupt in anger when a teen’s hair resembles a sheepdog, but take him out for ice cream even if he won’t talk, we build goodwill. When we don’t insult a child’s friends, but instead invite them over to hang out and start talking to them, we build goodwill. When we don’t react sarcastically to a teen’s monosyllabic conversation, but give her a hug regardless, we show her love.
Doing this alone, though, seems almost impossible. Quite often, when two people grow apart, the blame does lie more heavily with one than the other. But sometimes all it takes for reconciliation is for one person to decide to get the relationship back on track.
Naturally it doesn’t seem fair to be kind if they’re not. And yet it’s often when we do that which is especially hard that we make the most headway. That doesn’t mean anyone should endure abuse or disrespect; yet if we wait for the other person to make the first move, we could be waiting all the way to the end of the relationship.
Two people do not became strangers overnight. Likewise, true oneness isn't built overnight. Through the little choices that we make, we can gradually choose to be on the wrong road, and the gulf can get wider and wider, or we can choose to be on the road that builds relationship. So in the little things, what road will you choose?