I could tell you that I didn’t hear my husband come in the door, but that would be a lie.
The truth is that I did hear him fiddle with his keys, then pick up his computer bag with one hand and gym bag with the other, ultimately shoving the door open with his elbow.
I did hear it, though it would be understandable if I didn’t—what with the thunderous crashing of my preschooler’s Disney cars as they raced across our dining room floor, not to mention my toddler screaming “Mommy hold me!” on repeat as she clung to my leg while I seasoned the chicken breasts for dinner.
Even with all that noise and chaos, I did hear my husband come home from work. I heard him loud and clear.
But I did not budge from my spot at the stove. I did not turn my body or even just my head. I didn’t say a word either.
I simply pretended I hadn’t heard him come in.
Here’s the really crazy part of the story
It sounds like a passive aggressive move, doesn’t it? A really mean, manipulative thing to do. Is pretending not to hear our husbands walk in the door a regular thing wives do when our husbands are in big, big trouble?
If so, here’s the crazy part: There was no trouble. I wasn’t angry at him in the least; indeed, I was HAPPY that he was home. Inside I felt a surge of joy—joy mixed with relief that my solo parenting was over for the day.
So why did I not acknowledge his presence?
Perhaps it’s that I was overwhelmed because the “30-minute meal” I was preparing was shaping up to take double that due to the aforementioned toddler.
(Anyone else have a toddler who happily plays independently until the second she sees you start to make dinner? Then BAM! She’s on you like velcro.)
Maybe it’s that the house was too noisy to hear myself think and too cluttered to see the counter where I was cooking—and I knew my husband was returning from his 8-hour day spent in a quiet, clean office.
Maybe I just couldn’t be bothered.
But for whatever reason, I did not—would not—turn around and acknowledge my husband.
When I finally did, it was only because he was coming up behind me to give me a kiss, which I preempted by peeling the toddler off my leg and shoving her at him. Here, take her so I can get this darn chicken in the oven.
After that kind of exchange, is it any wonder we were starting to feel more like roommates than lovers and partners?
The Magic Trick to Transform Your Relationship Today
I decided I couldn’t go on like that. I couldn’t keep projecting my feelings of stress and frustration as senseless aggression toward my genuinely-trying-to-be-helpful husband.
So instead I tried this little trick.
To be honest, it’s so simple it doesn’t even seem like a trick at all. But what it lacks in complexity it makes up in POWER—power to transform your relationship almost immediately.
What trick am I talking about? Warm hellos and goodbyes.
What are warm hellos and goodbyes?
Well, they certainly aren’t the kind of welcome I gave my husband when he came home from work that day!
Giving warm hellos and goodbyes means that when you and your partner either depart or reunite, you do so lovingly and intentionally.
It means that multiple times each day—when you wake up, leave the house, reunite, go to sleep—you take a mere ten seconds to slow down and make those moments meaningful.
“Good morning, how did you sleep?” A quick squeeze.
“Have a great day at work! I hope your meeting goes well.” A kiss on the lips.
“I’m glad you’re home.” A smile.
“I love you, and I’m thankful for another day together. Goodnight.” A quick snuggle.
So much better than passing by one another in the hallway with no more than a grunt for a greeting, don’t you think?
Certainly nicer than flying out the door with no more than a fleeting “Bye!” called from the next room over.
Why does it work?
Warm hellos and goodbyes are so effective at transforming our relationships because even though they take only ten seconds of effort—if that!—they are the moments that set the mood.
The way we say hello sets the stage for the rest of our time together, and the way we say goodbye plants the seed for how we’ll think about each other while we’re apart.
When you think of it that way, is it any wonder that warm hellos and goodbyes have such a powerful impact on our relationships?
What’s more, as happiness expert Gretchen Rubin explained on her podcast, sometimes we FEEL the way that we ACT. Usually we think it’s the other way around—that the way we feel on the inside determines the way we act on the outside.
But sometimes the reverse is true; sometimes if we simply act tender and affectionate and connected to our partners, the feelings follow.
I get that that sounds a bit disingenuous. I’m not advocating being fake and inauthentic with your spouse. But to me, sometimes it’s OK to do something simple like offer a warm hello or goodbye even if your heart isn’t totally in it—if your heart totally IS into the end goal of warming up a relationship that’s cooled.
The proof is in the pooches
I’m not a dog owner myself, but I’m convinced this is why they are such beloved pets.
Dogs always offer enthusiastic hellos when you rise in the morning or come home in the evening—unlike my two felines, who often can’t be bothered to get up from their napping spots unless I shake the bag of treats.
When you walk in the door and your dog acts like you are the sunshine after a week of rain clouds, you feel amazing. You can’t wait to bend down and give Buddy or Bella some affection in return—and you’re more likely to be forgiving when he knocks over the houseplant or she chews up your favorite pair of socks.
Can warm hellos and goodbyes inspire the same kind of affection, gratitude, and forgiveness between human partners? Well, I think they’re a very good start.
Not just for spouses
No need to reserve this little trick for your romantic partner only. Try it with your children and see how quickly an enthusiastic greeting or departure—one that shows them just how happy their presence makes you feel—transforms their attitudes and behaviors toward you.
Then try it with your friends. Then your co-workers. Then your in-laws!
Because we all just want other people to be happy to see us, don’t we?