“Chew with your mouth closed!”
“Don’t hit your sister!”
So much of childhood is about learning the rules and then striving to follow them — at least occasionally.
While some rules are unreasonable — like being told to sit perfectly still at age five or made to skip recess, as I was, for doodling on my homework — the basic relationship skills that we learned as children were, in fact, of great value.
But somewhere between childhood and adulthood a lot of the good stuff we were taught about playing well with others gets forgotten or is set aside, as if it no longer applies.
As it turns out, kindergarten rules offer most of what we need to have satisfying and successful relationships as adults.
1. Play nice. The way many couples speak to each other, I’d swear that they learned their communication skills from a drill sergeant.
What happened to saying please and using the tone we were instructed as children to use with our friends?
No one likes to be reprimanded, barked at, or addressed in a way that says, I think you’re an idiot. Yet too often, as couples, we get impatient or angry and speak to each other with great disrespect.
Over time, being nasty erodes goodwill and will leave you wary and defensive and far more likely to meet nasty with nasty.
Nice, on the other hand, quite often begets nice.
2. Use your words. No matter how long you’ve been married or how well you know each other, your spouse will never be able to read your mind. Therefore, it’s your job to speak up. Rather than pout or whine or withdraw in a snit, use your words.
Those things that you want… it’s up to you to ask for them. Something on your mind? Go ahead and express it.
Say what you mean and mean what you say — and take responsibility for doing it effectively.
3. Wait your turn. We do it every day. At the airport, in the grocery line, at the drinking fountain, the stop sign, and even the dinner table: We wait our turn.
Some of us do it graciously. Others, impatiently. However you approach it, there’s no getting around the fact that you don’t always get to go first.
Beyond simple courtesy, waiting your turn plays a key role in communication where listening is often more important than speaking. The best communicators are genuinely curious. They quiet down and pay attention. They stay present and don’t interrupt or internally rush ahead to formulate their defense or rebuttal.
Being willing to wait your turn is an act of respect that your spouse will appreciate.
After all: It is well to remember that the entire universe, with one trifling exception, is composed of others. – John Andrew Holmes
4. Share. Generosity. It’s good for your health, your sense of self, and your marriage.
There’s a wealth of research supporting the notion that the more loving and giving we are, the more likely we are to live longer and be happily married.
Sharing in ways that range from divvying up household tasks to offering the last bite of your favorite dessert communicates caring and love. It says we’re in this together and you’re as important as I am.
One of the most frequent complaints I hear from unhappy couples is that their spouse is selfish. “She thinks of herself first.” “He rarely consider anyone’s needs but his own.” Getting what you want at the expense of others is a losing proposition.
While I’m not suggesting that we give selflessly or take care of others without considering ourselves as well, offering love and support, kindness and affection is always a good idea and will, quite likely, give you a better relationship.
5. Tell the truth. While telling the truth is a good rule to live by, keep in mind that it’s not always the easiest way to go. Honesty requires courage and clarity because revealing the truth is often uncomfortable and is not guaranteed to be well-received.
Lying brings its own set of troubles, not the least of which is that one lie can erode a lifetime of trust.
For many of us, a key benefit of telling the truth is that, no matter what comes of it, we can look ourselves in the mirror and see strength instead of weakness.
6. Say thank you. Along with I’m sorry, thank you may be two of the most valuable words you can say. And compared to I’m sorry, thank you does not require a Herculean effort.
Thank you says, I appreciate that you went out of your way. It says, I notice the things that you do, I value you and your actions and I want to make sure that you know I’m grateful.
Thank you sends a clear message that you do not take your partner for granted.
7. Have fun. Remember the saying about all work and no play? Many couples I meet can’t remember the last time they went on a date, let alone did something spontaneous or silly. We put such great focus on chores and work that as adults many of us stop having fun. And as couples, when in conflict or under stress, fun is the last thing on our minds.
People say they have fun alone. They go for a long bike ride or take a yoga class. They go out with their friends.
Having fun as a couple, getting away from the house, the tasks, and the endless responsibilities is essential. There’s more to life than paying bills, folding wash and taking care of the children. Even if you and your spouse are struggling, go out together and do something fun.
Time spent having fun is a gift to your friendship.
8. Don’t be bossy. Park over there! Go close the door! If this sounds like you or your spouse, you’ve clearly forgotten the rule about not bossing your friends.
Many couples make demands as opposed to requests. Rather than consider that there may be more than one right way, they insist their spouse do things the way they prefer. Good marriages consist of two equal adults, not a parent and child, or a boss and an employee.
If you tend to be bossy, ask yourself this: Why do I need things to be done my way? What might happen if I let go?
In some instances people feel bossed around when their spouse makes any sort of request or suggestion, delivered nicely or otherwise. Happy couples have the experience that they can influence each other, that their requests are taken seriously as opposed to being blown-off or minimized. Though there’s no guarantee, asking as opposed to commanding may bring better results. And being responsive is a good thing as well.
9. Say you’re sorry. It’s been said that a happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers. No surprise because as spouses we all make plenty of mistakes.
For many people, admitting any wrongdoing is extremely difficult. Rather than be accountable for their actions, they offer flimsy apologies or shift the focus to the things their spouse did wrong.
A sincere, heartfelt apology opens the door to forgiveness.
Hard as it is, saying I’m sorry, and meaning it, is a necessary first step toward repair.
10. Say I love you. In the rush of life, too often couples forget to say “I love you.” Nothing touches us as deeply or carries the same meaning as those exact words. “I love you” can turn a painful moment into a tender and hopeful one. It can ease our loneliness and lend reassurance. And saying it brings as many rewards as having your loved one say it to you.
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