Home marriage Marriage Problem #2: Courtesy, or Not

Marriage Problem #2: Courtesy, or Not

by Kelly Crawford

“Without attempting to make light of serious problems within a marriage, my limited observations through life indicate that the lack of courtesy in a home have huge implications for marital distress.

But maybe courtesy isn’t so light;  is not courtesy simply the outworking of the greatest commandment?

“Love the Lord with all that your are..and love your neighbor as yourself.”

“As myself”.  Convicting.

How ’bout this one…

“Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory, but in lowliness of mind, let each esteem others better than himself.”

If the Bible only consisted of these two verses, and we actually obeyed them and sought this kind of love for one another, alas, what a different place it would be!

When I was a little girl, we would visit some relatives (whose identity I will leave veiled for their honor).  They fought more than any two people I have ever seen or heard of (both confessing Christians).  If you talked to her, she was the victim of an abusive, cold-hearted, angry man.  If you talked to him, he was the victim of an abusive, cold-hearted, angry woman.

And I’m sure it was more complicated than I knew.  But they had formed such a habit of rudeness and hostility, that literally, one could say “I’m going to the store” (always with a sneer) and the other would retort sarcastically, “You would.”

I always wondered what it would be like if one of them gave in, softened, and began to demonstrate unselfish love to the other. Even just a smile. Love that expects nothing in return.  Surely that kind of love couldn’t be left unreciprocated!

Courtesy.  Warmth.  Kindness.  You know, the attitude we have toward the complete stranger in front of us at the grocery store, where, we even try to hide any irritation we’re feeling.

Courtesy is no little thing.  Smiling and speaking kindly can change–does change the entire atmosphere of the home, and dare I say the marriage itself.

From what I’ve observed, often once the bitterness between a husband and wife has set in, both feel equally justified for their snide remarks or cold responses.  “When he treats me like___I might be nice.”

A little dying on our part–both our parts–would go a long way toward bringing life and vitality to our marriages.

Lest you think I’m speaking to someone beyond myself, think again.  I battle with a sarcastic tongue and a critical spirit.  I’m just being honest.  It is one of the things that brings me begging, with tears, to the Lord more than anything else.  Dying to self is not my forte, and I hate that about me.  My husband, however, is a marvel at it.

I can’t change anyone but me.  Let’s start there.

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Lucy T November 13, 2009 - 8:54 am

I am right there with you when it comes to dying to self and begging with tears to the Lord.My husband is also a wonder in this area.I often tell him I can see Jesus threw him.He is a great example to our children.

madgebaby November 13, 2009 - 9:29 am

This is so right on. So many couples are critical and belittling to each other and it is absolutely soul killing –yelling and name calling make it worse. I think it was Gottman who did studies of how engaged couples interact and the level of mutual respect in a five minute encounter directly correlated with divorce rates.

It should also be added that I know many women who work outside the home because their workplace provides them with respect in a way that their husbands do not. That’s really sad, but very much true.

the cottage child November 13, 2009 - 10:03 am

Just this morning my husband (who is deeply respectful and one of those innately courteous people) and I (um, not one of those people) had a bit of a squabble going on (read: I was squabbling, he was patiently enduring).

He floored me with an apology and a fresh cup of coffee. Now, where is a squabbler supposed to go with that? Totally disarmed, and encouraged by example to be courteous back. I fight so hard to hang onto things that hurt, instead of dying a painless death.

Mary at Civilla's Cyber Cafe November 13, 2009 - 11:00 am

Yes, it is easy to get into the habit of treating those at home disrespectfully, or taking out our frustrations on them.

Kim M November 13, 2009 - 11:03 am

Bravo to you for continuing to post on such a sticky, sensitive subject. I agree with you 100 percent about this!

Wendi November 13, 2009 - 11:14 am

Thanks for the reminder to be sweet and nice and courteous. I was watching Racheal Ray the other day and a woman (a stay at home mom) said that she always, no matter what, greets her husband with a smile, that she understands that she sets the mood for the house. So today I purpose to greet my husband with a smile each and every day when he comes home….no matter what! 🙂

Kelly L November 13, 2009 - 11:17 am

Very true. When my husband and I got married he would say please and thank you. I thought he was a freak because I didn’t grow up that way within the family, only to strangers and friends. I am so glad I yielded. Courtesy and love towards you does almost require it to be pulled out of you, like it or not. And I am the one with the horrid tongue history. Soon, maybe my heart will be like Christ’s in totality.

Margaret November 13, 2009 - 11:50 am

I lived with a couple like that one summer. Oh, my, it was so disturbing! I have also seen many marriages where only one of the spouses was rude, mean, and discourteous on a regular basis, and that was just as sad.

Because I’ve noticed how easy it is for *me* to fall into rudeness or “snarkiness” (to use an internet era term) with my husband, I try to be very conciencious about smiling at him, asking for things nicely and thanking him, etc. He is not much for verbalizing, so he doesn’t say “thank you” as often as I do, but he does when it really matters, and I know it is always sincere. Things are really sweet when we are both on the same track of serving each other and being considerate. 🙂

Margaret November 13, 2009 - 11:58 am

Oh yeah, and often I notice that how *kindly* I treat my husband, and how I serve him, disturbs other women. It makes them very uncomfortable. Go figure.

Mrs W November 13, 2009 - 12:32 pm

I like this. It’s so true and I think it is something pretty much everyone can work on to make some at least small improvements in their marriage.

MamaHen November 13, 2009 - 1:46 pm

Isn’t it amazing how we can be so rude to the ones we love the most? I can be fussing at the kids and be so exsparated with them, but when the phone rings I am super-nice to a stranger! I need to go out of my way to be courteous to my family even more than I do with the check-out lady at Publix.

Amanda November 13, 2009 - 1:49 pm

Yes! EXACTLY what I needed to hear/read today.

Mary at Civilla's Cyber Cafe November 13, 2009 - 3:02 pm

Interesting that you would show an older couple in your picture. I find that this problem of discourtesy flares up a lot in older marriages, as the husbands are retired and home all day long, and as the couple gets on each other’s nerves due to fading eyesight, faulty memory, and hindered mobility. WE are beginning in this stage of our marriage now (we will be married 40 years in June), and we have to keep reminding each other of our frailties and the need for patience from each other. WE now try to watch out for each other, and remind each other of appointments, of what somebody else said, help each other read small print, etc.

This is a time of life when incredible many people divorce, due to not being able to cope with this new stage of marriage with its frustrations and limitations. Courtesy is so important. You have to remind each other: “We’re friends, remember?”

Tricia November 13, 2009 - 3:57 pm

Kelly, how great to highlight the importance of courtesy in the home. I love the picture of the older couple! I just have a question about this little bit: “(whose identity I will leave veiled for their honor–both professing Christians)”

I’m probably misunderstanding, and please forgive me if I am, but wouldn’t you veil their identity out of respect even if they weren’t Christians?

Word Warrior November 13, 2009 - 4:03 pm


LOL! Oh dear, I see how that reads and that is not what I meant at all. I’m veiling their identity because of their relationship to me, I merely wanted to mention for the sake of the post that they are Christians. Better re-read that!

Michele November 13, 2009 - 4:04 pm

Wow; I didn’t know you knew my parents LOL… miserable way to grow up, witnessing that behavior (& worse), & not a good way to prepare for marriage. It’s been 19-1/2 yrs for me & I’m still learning, but God is using me to break the old patterns (as I learn; I’m kinda slow…)

the cottage child November 13, 2009 - 4:15 pm

Mary, that is such a great reminder. We are still raising small children and husband is working, but I remember when his work life moved home, and I nearly lost my religion. I always thought of him as strong and sure and invincible in his work life, and when I learned that men struggle with “how in the daylights am I gonna pull this off”, you could say it got on my nerves. Or worse. (Throw in when he tried to tell me better ways to do housework.) I’m such a prize, let me tell you. He always does pull it off, more than that he’s rewarded well for the extra effort he gives, but having him around more and getting to know him better – I hadn’t prepared for that :). (and I still have to bite my tongue when he leaves his socks on the floor – that never seems to change. At least now it’s under his desk instead of the middle of the living room.)

All to say it’s easy to see how getting closer can cause significant friction, and it pays to be aware. Thanks for the heads up.

Tricia November 13, 2009 - 4:59 pm

Don’t worry, Kelly. I thought maybe that’s what you meant. Thanks for answering, though!

Mary at Civilla's Cyber Cafe November 13, 2009 - 5:07 pm

Yes, having a husband at home all day, Cottage Child, was a challenge for me. He is part-time/retired (that is his official status) at our church, and does his sermons from home, and I go with him on hospital, home, nursing home and assisted living center visits. So, we’re literally together 24/7.

At first, it was hard, because, yes, they take over the home and tell you how to manage the home better, re-arrange everything in a (to them) more suitable manner, etc. The hardest thing was having him take over the grocery shopping (I go with him, but he decides pretty much what we buy).

I don’t know how I managed to run the home for thirty-plus years before this!!! I especially miss doing my own marketing. Before, I always cooked and cleaned and washed and ironed to please him, of course, but that is different than having it completely taken over. The shopping cart is loaded with things I wouldn’t necessarily buy.

I have been told by ladies older than myself to learn to enjoy it, and as talks with my husband about this (we do enjoy great communication) have failed to produce a change, I have learned to submit to it and see the good.

Today, we just got a new vacuum cleaner. I let him pick it out, since he does the vacuum cleaning anyway. Stuff like that, I’ve had to let him just make the decision. I hate to vacuum anyway.

We had a big tussle over whether or not the Tupperware cereal storers (which I didn’t want but he thought were necessary) needed to be washed or not between boxes of cereal. I said they did; he said they didn’t. I won on that one (Rice Krispies don’t taste right when they’ve been put in a container that previously held Fruit Loops). Stuff like that.

But, I do like having his company all the time, and he enjoys mine, so I’ve just let him have his way on this stuff (except for the cereal storers not being washed).

I remember my in-laws going through the stages of their marriage.

Quinn November 13, 2009 - 8:34 pm

I really appreciated this post Kelly. I struggle with a bad attitude and critical tongue but particularly now when I’m expecting another baby. I know that I’m too easily provoked and I often overreact and am rash when it isn’t warranted. Thank you for the encouragement to try harder!

Sara November 13, 2009 - 9:50 pm

I agree with this 100% being kind is such a lost art. I know I need to work on it.

Dana November 13, 2009 - 10:58 pm

Funny about the differences with husbands being home all day! I never really thought about that. My husband and I (only 3 years married) are both full-time grad students, so some semesters we have opposite schedules and never see each other until late at night (we literally passed on the sidewalk going and coming one term…) or like this semester, we are both in class at the same times and home together all day several days a week. I guess retirement won’t be such an adjustment for us. 🙂 I do agree that being courteous to each other is essential. Fortunately we were great friends for several years before we got together.

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Brandi November 15, 2009 - 12:19 pm

I grew up in a home of strife and fighting almost constantly. My parents never seemed to have a kind word for each other. Sometimes, there was a violent end to the argument. Our home always seemed to be stressful. (In their defense, they too, where raised in battle grounds. My mother’s folks are still bitterly battling it out in their senior years. They are more cruel now to each other then before.)
This way of living created bitterness between my little sister and I. We would argue and fight over the smallest of things. We where not close as teens!
I moved out at an early age, trying to escape the constant battling. I married at twenty-one to a very kind hearted man. His upbringing was not one of arguement and chaos. Not perfect but his parents respected each other.
Our first couple years of marriage, I was a monster to live with. Any little thing would set me off. I would say the most hurtful thing I could think of because that’s all I knew. I had so much venome in me, leftovers from my angry chidhood. I thank God for giving me a patient husband. I finally realized what I was doing. I cried and prayed for God’s refinement. Gradually over the years, He has changed my heart. It took hard work on my part to get control over my sarcastic tongue.
I am thankful to say we have a peaceful and loving home. My children will never know arguing and fighting in our home. As a result, they are very loving toward each other.
My sister and I have formed the bond as adults, that was never there as children. She has suffered a failed marriage because she really never understood what marriage is supposed to be. She tells me, she hopes for a marraige like mine. We really have come a long way!
Sadly, my parents divorced after twenty-seven years of fighting.

I (prayerfully) remember to keep a smile on my face and a kind word on my tongue each day. Kindness goes a long way!!


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