How one couple uses acts of kindness to improve their marriage

Kim Duke and Rob Labossiere use these three rules to avoid hurtful arguments and strengthen their marriage.
Image: A couple holds hands
Passion is important, but friendship is what’s really at the heart of long-lasting romance, Kim Duke says.Kentaroo Tryman / Getty Images/Maskot
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By Julie Compton

He loves to hunt and fish, she loves high heels and lipstick. He has a second degree black belt in karate, she has a second degree black belt in giving you her opinion. Despite all their differences, Kim Duke and Rob Labossiere, who live in Alberta, Canada, have been happily married for over 20 years.

“I actually believe it’s truly healthy for a relationship, I don’t believe you should be clones of each other,” Kim Duke told NBC News BETTER. “It’s far more interesting, and you learn from each other by having separate interests and spending time apart, which I think is really important, and we share the same values, and I think that is definitely one of the stronger threads in a relationship.”

But being different, and knowing how to work through those differences, she says, comes with it’s own set of challenges. If mutual respect and friendship are the heart of your relationship, it can survive anything, says Duke, a marketing expert who blogs about simple living. Here’s how Duke, 53, says she and her husband Rob, 60, a paramedic, made their marriage last through thick and thin, which she originally wrote about for Medium.com.

They let go of small annoyances

Arguments can be more harmful to relationships than the petty annoyances that usually trigger them, observes Duke, a breast cancer survivor. When the guy who sometimes gets under your skin is the same guy who took care of you during chemo, you learn to let go of the small stuff, says Duke.

Kim Duke and Rob Labossiere have been happily married for over 20 years.Courtesy of Kim Duke

“Sometimes if you just take a step back and say to yourself: OK, yeah, he ticked me off, but this is the same guy that carried me when I could not walk, when I was lying in bed from chemo for a 170 days, and carried me to the bathroom, so maybe I need to just give him a break, and I’m not going to be ticked off about whatever — something he said — or that he didn’t do something I wanted,” she says.

What’s even more important, she stresses, is not even telling him that he annoyed her in the first place.

“I think one of the biggest things sometimes is letting someone off the hook and you don’t need to tell them,” she says.

They follow three rules

When the couple does occasionally find themselves in an argument (yes, she says, they still get feisty from time to time), they follow three rules: they don’t call each other names, they don’t bring up past conflicts, and they never threaten each other with divorce (what Duke simply refers to as the “D” word).

“We both had been in relationships with people who did all three of those things,” she says. “Where they did name calling, where no matter what the argument was, they would drag up stuff that had happened years ago, and then also always threatened to leave. We just decided right away that that’s unacceptable.”

Duke explains their three rules as follows:

  • No name calling: “In no way are you showing respect to your partner by calling them anything,” she says, “and that shows insecurity and a deep level of immaturity if you have to do that type of stuff.”
  • No dragging up the past: “I don’t find that there is any benefit in dragging up stuff that happened years ago or even 6 months ago,” she says. “If it’s been dealt with, just leave it there. Let it be.”
  • No threatening the “D” word: “I think throwing the 'D' word around is incredibly disrespectful and it creates a very threatening environment — an unstable environment where people feel that they are walking on eggshells, where people feel they can’t ever tell you what they feel. And I’m really thankful that we established that so early in our relationship, and it came from learning from the past.”

They understand the importance of small, daily gestures

Every morning when Duke wakes up and walks into her kitchen, there’s a cup of warm water waiting for her on the counter. She says Rob has been warming coffee mugs for her every morning for over 20 years because he knows it makes her happy to pour her coffee into a pre-warmed mug.

“It’s a very small thing, but a very kind thing that he had done for over 20 years,” says Duke. “And even when he’s annoyed with me, even when he’s been annoyed at me, I know it’s going to be there, I know it will be sitting there in the morning.”

She does small things for him, too. For example, on a recent morning, she cut comics out of the "New Yorker" magazine and taped them to his bathroom mirror so he could read them while he shaved.

They occasionally do big things for each other, too: He’s taken her on vacations, she says, and she paid for him to take cooking classes — “The smartest thing I ever did,” she says with a laugh. Still, the small acts of kindness are the adhesive that hold their relationship together, says Duke.

“The small, daily gestures are the consistent things that you do to show someone how important they are to you, and that you’re trying to make their life a little easier, and you’re trying to show them that you love them,” she says. “And it’s really their small kindness, is how I see it, and small kindnesses are far more important than grand gestures.”

They accept each other for who they are

Passion is important, but friendship is what’s really at the heart of long-lasting romance, as far as Duke is concerned. “And friendship means that you have to like each other, you have to like the quirkiness of the other person,” she says.

Conflict, she says, is usually the result of expecting our partner to be how we want them to be, rather than accepting them fully as they are. “And I just don’t think it works,” she says.

“There is no way in hell I’m going to be able to change my husband,” she says, though she admits, “I tried at the beginning, I tried. He is just a jeans, T- shirt, throw-on-a-ball-cap kind of guy. It’s just who he is.”

The writer says she has her own weird quirks — like leaving stacks of books around the house, but Rob never complains. “He accepts me the way that I am,” she says.

“I think I’m pretty lucky,” she adds. “I’ve got a keeper.”

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