Good manners in your marriage can reap big benefits
My mother rarely had anything kind to say to my father, and I grew up with very few memories of her saying “Please” and “Thank you” to him.
Yet she was a charming woman, a regular fixture at social events in my Southern hometown. She was gracious to everyone, and her good manners — including saying please and thank you — were always on display, with a Southern stamp of approval embedded therein.
My sisters and I were expected to follow her example. We even went to “finishing school” to add a layer of polish.
With my dad, my mother was critical, condescending, and authoritarian. I’m sorry to say I followed her example where he was concerned. I’m ashamed my sisters and I often didn’t use please and thank you with dad, and when we did, it was a manipulative tool for getting something we wanted.
Outside of our home, however, our manners were properly in play, and we used please and thank you and sir and ma’am as naturally as saying hello.
At some point it occurred to me that I was more polite to strangers than I was to my dad. Over the years, I had come to the conclusion that my mother not only did not love my dad, but she also didn’t like him very much. But I did. After all, he was a sweet, kind, funny, easy-going man. Once I changed my attitude and behavior, Dad and I became much closer.
I can’t say the same was true of the way I treated boyfriends. While I had not liked the way mother treated dad, I had seen that her dictatorial ways got results. Dad was constantly trying to please her. Remarkably, those ill-treated boyfriends did the same with me. There was a sense of power attached to being a bitch and getting desired results.
It took a few years of mowing through men and a couple of years of therapy (no surprise, my mother’s behavior and need for power figured into my own), but I moved past being a bitch to the men I dated.
Fixing the worst parts of ourselves along life’s way makes us worthy of gaining the love and respect of the right person when he or she comes along.
By the time I met my husband, I had mellowed, and all the tenets of good manners had become deeply embedded. And he…well, there were many reasons I married him, but one was that he had an ingrained goodness which begat good manners. To wit: After 35 years, he still opens doors and pulls out chairs for me.
In my first blog in this MARRIAGE series, I wrote about the circle of love, i.e., the more you do for him, the more he wants to do for you, and the more he does for you, the more you want to do for him.
Sometimes you ask the other to do something for you. When you bracket those requests with please and thank you, that wish to please the other is intensified.
It’s not specifically please and thank you under every circumstance. A typical interaction between us could go something like, “Honey, would you get me a glass of water while you’re in there?” The tone, naturally imbued with respect, infers the please. When he brings it to me, I thank him.
Those thank yous don’t have to be in the moment, either. For example, I do the laundry, he does the grocery shopping. We thank each other for doing those tasks. He’ll pull a clean shirt off the hanger, and if I’m in earshot, he thanks me for doing his laundry. I look in the fridge and see he got my favorite yogurt, and if he’s in earshot, I thank him. We don’t track each other down to specifically say thank you about a particular thing, but if it occurs to me the next time I’m reaching for a yogurt and he’s in earshot, I’ll thank him then.
This goes on in our home day in and day out, year after year. Think of all the good energy that surrounds us because we express our appreciation for the other’s efforts, no matter how great or small.
I mean, you say please to the server who asks if you want more water, and thank you to the person who hands you your dry cleaning, so why wouldn’t you do the same to the person with whom you chose to spend your life?
Some might think what my husband and I do is excessive; but respectful, appreciative words can be poured in great measure without the cup ever running over.
Ann Landers, the advice columnist, wrote a wonderful column about class. In it, she makes this point: “Class knows that good manners are nothing more than a series of petty sacrifices.”
And so, we’re back to good manners. . . how smoothly they pave the many corridors which we must traverse in life. For my husband and me, the corridor of marriage is not only smooth, but also strewn with the fragrant petals of flowers that were seeded with every please and thank you.