The simplicity of basic etiquette

Marriage creates a bond or rather fusion of individual identities. In a way, the “we” becomes more important than the “I”, as it should be. It’s a crucial element that strengthens the foundation of the relationship. But by force of habit we tend to take things for granted. I agree, it’s human nature but one that can be rewired every now and then.

Having an open line of communication is a must in the marital relationship. It’s the only relationship that allows you to be your true self without any inhibition or judgement. It’s up to each partner therefore to build that level of trust and create a space of comfort. It requires control, understanding, maturity and commitment.

The fallout is losing the basic glue that is essential for any relationship – an acknowledgement and acceptance of the other person as an individual and a recognition of their value in our lives. Within this, the simple expressions of “thank you…please…sorry…can I help…I understand” have the power to re-instil confidence in each other, and maintain and/or restore the sanctity of the relationship.

These words hold an infinitesimal amount of value in terms of making the partner feel loved, important and taken care of. It makes them want to do more, so much more. It raises the bar for the relationship. Simultaneously not using them often enough (or not meaning it when you say them!) makes the partner feel used, worthless, unappreciated and insecure.

Often it is said, you can’t pour from an empty cup. Roles within the marriage can be defined but that doesn’t mean one partner’s contribution is anything less than the other. A lack thereof makes them feel lost. They’re unable to understand their position and importance within the relationship. It’s debilitating. They might continue to contribute but there’s no feelings attached leading to disappointment and unhappiness. Soon the feeling that there’s something missing in the relationship raises its ugly head.

Expectations of these basic tenets of etiquette can vary in degree and differ from person to person. When they are met, the level of expectation is lower. We tend to add value (mostly negative value) to our expectations when they’re not met. They can also get blown out of proportion! Often partners are heard saying, ‘s/he’s like that only.’ This isn’t just an acceptance that they will not reciprocate or acknowledge the meaning and impact of these simple words. It basically ensures that love is lost in the process thereby widening the small cracks within the marriage.

For example, ‘sorry’ doesn’t only mean you’re apologising for hurting the other. Most importantly, it means that you think your partner is worthy of your respect and in turn they believe that you’re worthy of being forgiven. Such is the power of the word.

If these are such ‘simple’ words, then why is it so hard to practice? When we fail to acknowledge our partner’s efforts, is it because we feel it’s our due and so there’s no point in asking politely? Do we view them as a sign of weakness? Does it make us question why everything our partner does needs to be appreciated? Or do we assume that the partner should know they’re important so it’s just a bother having to tell them that?

Perhaps, the next time you’re really happy about doing something for your partner or sorry for being difficult and you share this but your partner doesn’t acknowledge your efforts – question yourself about how it makes you feel within, and then about your partner and the relationship. Does it open the floodgate of similar bad memories from the past? This is a simple yet quick way to understand the importance of using these words in our daily lives.

Honeymoon’s Over!

When planning a wedding, most couples with equal gusto plan for the honeymoon too. It’s as important as the wedding itself – deciding on the uniqueness of the location, the most romantic way to travel, things to do together to make it exciting – these are just some of the considerations to think about. Then, of course, there are the numerous options for honeymoon packages to choose from, shopping exclusively for honeymoon wear, following a strict regime of exercise and diet to look sexy and desirable. It’s truly a thoroughly enjoyable phase.

After the most beautiful wedding and fun-filled honeymoon, one returns to start living together, this time without the frills.  And that’s when the realities of marriage hit with a vengeance – as the said / unsaid expectations from each other become pronounced, settling in with in-laws becomes tedious and tiring, and amidst role-playing the responsible husband / wife instead of the happy-go-lucky charmer and lover – couples realise that something is amiss and perhaps all is not right with their marriage. Simultaneously one starts questioning their decision – did I do the right thing? Was s/he the right one for me? Did I make a mistake?

The good thing is that ‘most’ couples suffer such serious disappointments within the first few months of marriage. They feel let down due to the marked discrepancy between the person they fell in love with and married and the person that they now have to live with! This is the point where actual adjustments and compromises begin. How one deals with this phase is crucial as it determines the importance couple places on their marriage and their commitment to making it successful.

When you marry the person you love the biggest expectation that needs to be dealt with is the notion of living ‘happily ever after!’ Romantic novels, fairy tale romances on television or movies, conversation amongst friends and family, societal and cultural views all point towards marriage being the ultimate goal, one in which couples continue to share unending love for one another, cherish each other and live in harmony.

This “disillusionment” leads to disappointment as there is a big difference between the realities of marriage and romantic ideals. Romantic love before marriage is based on physical attraction and emotional longing and desire. Unfortunately romantic love remains strong only till those desires are filled. Once done, it slowly fades or becomes less intense.

When courting, there is always pressure to put your best self forward – you’re always caring, acutely aware of every nuance in body language or inflexion in voice, being prompt to respond or return a call, making an extra effort to do something nice even after a busy long day, being extra sensitive about likes and dislikes – the list is endless and somewhere within this role-play one inadvertently attributes qualities to loved ones which harbour on the verge of being unrealistic and idealistic.

Marriage and living together 24×7 leads to re-examining these qualities and comparing them with everyday reality. Soon couples begin accusing each other of completely changing after marriage or perhaps pressurising each other to change. This change is actually nothing but finally seeing each other as they truly are!

Not easy

Stronger Marriage reaffirms that once couples accept one another as they reallare, they are able to develop a bond that is durable, secure, and rewarding but it requires work. Here are a few important points as stated by them –

1. Look at this period as a transition all couples go through, not as a sign of a bad marriage.

2. Concentrate on adapting yourself rather than trying to change the other person. In doing so, you’ll find attitude may be responsible for a good share of the problem and the best way to change someone else’s behaviour is to change your own. People are more likely to change when they feel accepted.

3. Share your feelings about the adjustment with your spouse. This can, of course, be destructive if it is not done with consideration. Don’t attack, accuse, or name call. It will probably be reassuring to both to realize that the spouse has also had feelings of disappointment and the need for adjustment.

4. Strengthen the marital commitment. Rather than using energy to wish for someone else (with whom there will be just as many or even more adjustments), invest effort in being a good partner and doing all you can to be considerate of your partner.

5. One of the simplest, but most significant things couples can do is to ignore the negative and lavish each other with positive appreciation, praise, and affection.