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.
Modern life has become increasingly casual, it’s true. But casual doesn’t mean discourteous. Being comfortable doesn’t mean being careless about how we look and behave. If you and your spouse have fallen into bad habits around manners, you can and should change it. Start with yourself. You can set a different level of respect and courtesy in motion.
Below are 10 ways to be a mannerly spouse:
- Use the three little magic words (“please,” “thank you” and “you’re welcome”) regularly.
They are the courtesy language that makes the world and the family more civilized. The people you love deserve to hear them often.
- Speak politely to each other.
The reason you were polite in the early stages of courting and marriage is that it works. People respond positively to people who are polite.
- Express appreciation for everyday things.
Just because your spouse always does the laundry doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be grateful. Expressing that gratitude sets a positive interaction in motion. Being recognized and appreciated feels good.
- Remember that how you say something is as important as what.
Tone of voice matters. Sarcasm and negativity are the enemies of a good relationship.
- Eliminate obscenities.
Using four-letter words to describe each other or what is happening erodes respect and creates a negative home atmosphere. Swearing may help you feel better in the moment but it does nothing to solve problems and will ultimately put distance between you.
- Listen to each other.
Encourage real conversation. Be attentive to what your partner says. Show interest in their interests. Don’t interrupt. Don’t jump on the other’s opinions. Share and recognize feelings as well as information. When people are listened to, they feel loved.
- Don’t criticize or correct your partner publicly.
There are times when some constructive feedback can be helpful. But that time is not in public. Don’t correct something your partner is saying unless it is of national importance. Save critiques for private conversations when you can couple them with love.
- Remember to use the gestures of politeness.
Hold doors for each other. Offer to help carry heavy or awkward loads. Bring your spouse coffee in the morning. Offer to help with tasks. Doing these little things regularly adds up to greater happiness with each other.
- Remember to say you’re sorry.
To be human is to make mistakes or be thoughtless at times. Apologize immediately when you are forgetful, impatient, hurtful or just plain wrong. Sincere apologies and equally sincere forgiveness are essential for a relationship to last.
- Dress for success.
A colleague of mine once told me, “Workaholics shower in the morning. Lovers shower at night.” He was pointing out that when folks shower says who they are most interested in being fresh and appealing for. Dressing clean and neat shows respect for yourself and your partner. Clean is sexy. Clean invites your partner to be closer. Even when staying in, dressing up can make an ordinary evening at home into something more special.
In a world that is often unkind, where people often feel unappreciated or taken for granted, even abused, our homes should be a safe haven and a place where we are loved and treated well. Partners deserve the respect and appreciation that is expressed by being on their best behavior. Good manners are among the very best ways to say “I love you.”