Living Columns & Blogs

Like Otis Redding says, try a little tenderness

This weekend we’re celebrating the King of Soul’s 75th birthday. Otis Redding was only 26 when he passed from this earth, but he left an indelible mark on the entirety of music culture.

I barely have the right to reference this icon, but I do have some connection. My mother, a long time Realtor in Jones County, was involved in identifying land for Redding’s Big O Ranch. A good friend, Ed Bacon, a Mercerian and white civil rights activist, was an usher for the funeral and had the privilege of escorting Gladys Knight.

One of Redding’s most popular hits — and still considered one of the greatest singles ever — was “Try a Little Tenderness.” Such a beautiful song and message, it still rings true today. We could apply this wisdom in so many areas, like race reconciliation or coupling, any place that needs understanding.

My marriage, or yours, may need a dose of Redding’s call for tenderness.

One spouse being right is not what is important in your coupling. That is surface fluff. The process is what is truly important. It boils down to you listening, caring and supporting one another tenderly.

As you’ve heard me say before, one of the biggest traps in coupling is the need to be right. So what do I do if she’s not right? I’ve always assumed her to be strong and smart, and she is — but not always.

Here’s where I listen to the song’s wisdom. I don’t need to be right or corrective or the authority. To develop a healthy relationship, I need to choose tenderness, to be supportive.

Remember, this person, this better half, is precious to you. Do the work to avoid the need to be right and find a way to care, to understand and to offer tenderness.

The work here is to remember that your partner has his or her own thoughts. As the lyrics say, she is weary ... she has her own grief and care.

And then Redding says, you won’t regret it ... and she won’t forget it. This is what we’re working on, strong lasting relationships based on care, understanding and tolerance.

Wouldn’t we all do well to practice more tolerance? If we could be self-aware enough to realize we are not the center of the universe, if we could allow other people to enter our lives with all their pains and struggles, then we could find what we are hoping for.

Isn’t this what we all want? Don’t we all want a partner who accepts us, understands us?

I had a mind-blowing experience recently. I went on a fishing trip with the boys; I arrived late with everyone already sacked out at the fish camp. I found a room with twin beds, one occupied, one open. The problem was that big fellow was smelling, making noises and sounds.

I thought about his poor wife. She has to sleep with that boy, bless her heart. And pretty quickly I thought of my wife, she tolerates the same thing. Oh my! Am I grateful.

From this foundation of acceptance and tolerance, we respond with tenderness. Hopefully, somebody is tolerating you, so try a little tenderness — you won’t regret it.

Bruce Conn is a licensed marriage and family therapist, and works with individuals and couples. Contact him at or call 478-742-1464.