The Impact Politeness Can Have on Your Marriage – Even After Decades Together

After the honeymoon phase of a marriage ends – and it will end – what you are left with, if you are one of the lucky ones, is decades upon decades of uneventful routine life together.  We are creatures of habit after all.

Settling into routine with someone you love can be quite comforting and is actually one of the blessings of a happily married life.  No longer do we have to worry about filling gaps of silence with conversation, but instead we can relax next to one another for quite some time without a word being spoken.

It is also comforting when you each know your significant other’s schedule, fluttering in and out of one anothers daily routines like an orchestrated dance. It is actually quite relaxing, the order of it all.

And then there is the getting to know the little details about each other; how she likes her coffee, his favorite time to get a workout in, her need to make lists and how he likes his socks folded together, not rolled into a bundle.

Of course there is the companionship.  We will forevermore always have a date to social events, someone to laugh with and someone to come home to at the end of a long day.

These are the daydreams of lovers and newlyweds, when we are putting our best-foot-forward as they say, being kind and polite, and looking for small acts of kindness to bring a smile to our loved ones face.

And for some time, they aren’t just daydreams but reality.  They are real, they are quaint and they are comforting – for a while.

And then the years roll by.

We get more comfortable with one another, get used to each other and begin to take our marriage, our partner’s love and the stability of our relationship for granted.  But who can blame us?  We now have more important things to think about than remembering to text her before stopping at the store to see if she needs anything, keeping his favorite beverage stocked in the refrigerator or relaxing next to each other at the end of the day watching a movie.

We have jobs, we have careers, we have bills, we have kids, we have in-laws, we have medical issues, we have aging parents, we have pets, we have…we have…we have.  Life has gotten in the way.  The romance is dead and the marriage is dying along with it.

First the hello/goodbye kisses go until we don’t even let one another know when we are leaving the house or coming home. Oh, there is still love there, but it is less passionate love and more resembling the love you have for a cousin?

Communication breaks down and becomes a chore, accusations and frustration takes its place.

“If he loves me he should…”

“Why do I always have to be the one who…?”

“I talked about this already, don’t you remember?”

“Why do you act like that?”

“I’m done talking.”

Conversations that once started with “please”,“thank you” and “may I help you with that?” long since evaporated from the daily interactions.  The history of each day piles up until you feel like strangers.

What happened?

And can we fix it?

What I described may not be your marriage or relationship.  It may be better, heck it may be a thousand degrees better, or it may very well be much worse.  I don’t know.

What I do know however, is that after my personal experience of 31 years of marriage with the same man (and still going), that at some point, whether for a day, months or years, if you haven’t yet, at some point you will experience some or all of what I just described.

Why does this happen?

I wish I could tell you there is an easy answer, but I can’t, because it is almost never just one thing and it is almost never just one person’s fault.  What I can tell you however, is other than a definitive marriage definer, like adultery, alcohol or drug addiction or abuse, it is usually insidious and a situation where blame is equally shared.

I would have to write a book to list all of the small and large moments in a marriage that gets a couple to this point (that book is actually being written with a working title of The Power of Polite.)  But at this point it really doesn’t matter, for here you are.

“But Jamie,” I hear you saying right now, “It does matter. It is his fault because…”

Please re-read the bolded paragraph above.  To make things better this is the first thing that we need to get right in our heads.  Fault is most always equally shared.

Moving forward.

The generic and all encompassing answer I can give to “What happened” that will cover most marital situations is the simple fact that we TOOK EACH OTHER FOR GRANTED.  Look at it this way.

Have you ever purchased a brand new car, straight from the dealership?  It is beautiful isn’t it?  When you first get it you are careful where you park it, you wash it regularly, you keep the trash picked up inside of it, you have the little compartments inside organized and you are so proud every time you get behind the wheel and drive it. It brings you such joy.

A little time goes by and you get busy and aren’t able to wash it as often as you like. Sometimes a little trash piles up, an empty water bottle here and a few grocery store receipts there.  In a rush you throw some change, an ink pen and lip balm in one of the compartments and will worry about reorganizing it later. Your car is your faithful and comfortable companion that can still clean up nicely when it needs to and in those moments still make you happy.

After a couple of years you have a few minor door dings from someone opening their car door into it.  The wheels have dirt built up, they need to be scrubbed.  It is looking a little dull and could use a good detailing.  You find you don’t enjoy driving it as much as you once used to.  It doesn’t look as shiny and new.  And because you don’t enjoy it as much you spend less effort in keeping it looking nice.  

You push the oil changes out further than you should.  You only wash it when you have to.  Some take out food bags, receipts, french fries, a book, crumbled up mystery paper, and an ink pen have taken up permanent residence on the floorboard behind the driver’s seat.

The interior upholstery has some scuff and dirt marks on it, the dash is dusty with tiny specks of crumbs in the cracks and there is some old dried coffee in the cup holder.

Your car no longer inspires you, excites you, makes you happy or proud and because of that, you just co-exist with it.  It gets you from point-A to point-B, a useful tool that will make do until you have the wherewithal to replace it with something new and shiny that makes you happy once again.

My friends, this is marriage.

And our relationship with our significant other, like that car, can become out of favor with us when we no longer APPRECIATE it and stop treating it with RESPECT.

Now, here is the part of how to fix it.

Be POLITE with your husband/wife/lover once again.  That’s it.

We treat guests in our homes, co-workers and even strangers with more kindness and politeness than we do the people we love the most.

This will be a simple but difficult task in the beginning if you wish to turn your marriage around and feel those delightful euphoric feelings you once felt for one another.

Simple, because it is easy.  Be polite.  Be kind.  Go out of your way to make him or her feel special.  Pretend you have the Queen of England in your home or Prince Charles, how would you treat them?  Would you ignore them?  Bark out orders at them?  Roll your eyes at them?  Be inpatient with them?  Yell across the house at them? Show your disgust with them?  I hope not.

I want you to start treating your partner as if they are royalty visiting your home.

That is the simple part.  Be kind, be polite.  Now for the difficult part.

The more history you have together the more history you have together, believe me when I say “I get it.”  When you first begin you will want to hold back for various reasons, but here are a few of the top and most common.

One: “Why should I be nice, he/she isn’t nice to me?”

This is really just our wounded ego talking.  We have a history of hurt and disrespect on some level and so to protect ourselves we build up defenses.  Afterall, if you don’t try and put yourself out there you can’t get hurt.  I urge you to do it anyway.  If you want your relationship to get better you must.  

If you back away from trying nothing will change.  Someone has to take the first step.  Just make sure whatever kind gesture or polite words you choose, do them with LOVE, not with an attitude of “Okay, I’ll try this but I know it isn’t going to work.”  Always lead with love.

Two: “He/she won’t appreciate it even if I do?”

If they ever loved you, if they ever treated you with respect, if you ever treated them with respect, then they will appreciate it – eventually.

Don’t be fooled.  Do not mistake their lack of positive response or maybe even negative response as not appreciating it.  Depending on both your history together, they simply may not initially trust a sudden change in your attitude.  Give it time and be consistent and persistent.

Just imagine if you are a woman whose husband of 18 years suddenly comes home from work one day with roses, for no apparent reason.  He hasn’t bought you flowers for over 15 years, and yet, here he is, deciding to appreciate you.  I dare say for most women their first response would be suspicion not gratitude and love.  So be patient, in time they will come around to trust your motives to be pure.

Three:  “It won’t make a difference.”

If you truly believe that then your marriage is probably already over and you might as well get on with the order of the business of getting a divorce. (Not that I’m giving you legal advice or even recommending that.  It is simply my way of having you be honest with yourself.)

Or, possibly, you don’t want it to work for whatever reason or another.  I find that once a person has their mind and heart set, with one foot already out of the marriage, that it is then difficult to turn that ship around.

However, if either of the above is not the case then it WILL make a difference, just remember what I have already said: be KIND, be CONSISTENT and PERSISTENT with your POLITENESS, and lead with LOVE.

Four: “I don’t want to.”

Reread Number Three.

Five: “I tried to make an effort but he/she was rude back.  I give up.”

They don’t trust it, can you honestly blame them?  Remember, they don’t want to get hurt either.

Also, depending on how long the disrespect has been going on, it might have just been a knee-jerk reaction and inside they regretted it the moment they said whatever they said.  Your job is not to hit back and come out swinging.  Just leave it at that and let them do the work of processing what they said to you within themselves.

Remember, you have to be consistent and persistent with being polite to your spouse, that is the only way they will begin to trust that it is genuine and start to respond to you in kind.

You CAN make a change in your marriage!  You must learn to respect one another again and that has to begin with POLITENESS, it can not come about with the absence of it.  Politeness is a form of kindness and who can argue that all marriages – all relationships in fact – can breathe happiness into existence without kindness.

I will leave you with this parting reminder:  Manners, etiquette and politeness are not like your Sunday best dress, something we only put on for special occasions.  They are a part of who you are whether it is in the presence of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, your boss or your spouse.  Ordinary people “turn it on” when they need it.  Extraordinary people do it when no one is watching.