The couple sitting in front of me could barely look at each other. Therapy, she told me, was her last-ditch effort to get through to her husband. She couldn’t get him to understand what she needed in their relationship. Her husband agreed. I wondered if he really didn’t understand or he didn’t agree.
The history of their courting was very romantic. Both agreed that he had done everything he could to please her. He dressed up for dates. He held doors. He made her gourmet meals and took her to nice places. He seemed to really listen to her and understand her. They talked about anything and everything for hours. She was swept off her feet by this handsome, well-spoken, considerate guy. He seemed the man of her dreams.
Two weeks after the wedding, she told me that the dream started devolving into a nightmare. He walked around the house in his boxers. He only showered when he was going to work. He didn’t want to go anywhere or do anything outside the home. “Please” and “Thank you” had dropped out of his vocabulary. He became irritated when she wanted to talk about her concerns. The prince had turned into a frog in less than a month of marriage. What happened?
When I asked him his version, he replied that she had an unrealistic idea of marriage. “Being married is different than dating,” he said. “I can’t be expected to “date” every day of my life. A man’s home is his castle. After a hard day at work where I have to be polite all day, I shouldn’t have to worry about manners at home. Why can’t she accept that?”
Why indeed? Like a number of people I’ve seen for counseling, this man (and some women I’ve known) had the mistaken idea that being married meant he could take the relationship for granted; that he could be his most casual (read, obnoxious) self without consequences.
It’s one thing to be casual. It’s quite another to be crude and rude. For a marriage to deepen and last, there needs to be mutual respect and kindness. That respect and kindness is demonstrated by treating each other with courtesy throughout your marriage.
Intimacy requires us to be our best selves, not our worst. If we have children, it’s also important to bear in mind that we are their role models. They are not likely to learn good manners if their parents don’t treat each other and them with courtesy.
If you or your spouse have let your manners slide; if one or both of you behaves and speaks more politely to coworkers, friends or telemarketers than you do with each other; you are taking your relationship for granted in a dangerous way. Reset your manners button.