Monday, September 25, 2006

Please Don't Check your Manners at the Door!

My dh and I often are around younger couples who seek us out for marriage advice. Many of these young men and women grew up in broken homes and have no clue what a healthy marriage looks like. So, they search for real life godly examples to help them understand what the scriptures say about marriage.
Now, this is scary, since dh and I are by no means perfect! I can think of a dozen ways we can take our marriage higher even as I write this article. But, God has blessed us, and we are happy together. He gave us stable home backgrounds. He also placed many wonderful Christians in our lives who have encouraged us during the almost twenty-six years we've been married so far. Some of these poeple were given the hard assignment by God to love us through times when neither one of us was acting very loveable. So, we want to pass on to others what God has so richly given to us.
Marriages or child/parent relationships that are in crisis take lots of prayer, love, and counsel. It's not the purpose of this article to provide a simplistic answer to deep-seated problems.
However, I do see one simple thing that trips up a number of families -- The husband and wife check their manners at the front door.
I see otherwise personable young men and women treat their spouses in demanding, selfish, ungrateful, bossy, loud, and otherwise downright unpleasant ways. They are cordial to everyone else, but with their spouse they forget the most basic of manners -- even down to not saying "please" and "thank-you". Under the guise of trying to "help their spouse", they constantly pick at their spouse's faults. At home, they blurt out things in a manner they would never dream of using with anyone else. Sometimes, parents will even say crushing things to their tender young children!
For some reason, I'm surprised that often the wife is the greatest offender in this area. Usually, this woman would rather cut out her tongue than to say something impolite to a stranger. But, this same woman -- so outwardly the soul of sensitivity -- may have no clue that she rattles off rude comments to her husband all day long.
I do understand the temptation to "let down on your manners" at home. I think this comes from the following sources:
1) Because we are so vulnerable with our spouses, they can hurt us as no one else can. Thus, when they are rude to us -- even without meanting to hurt us -- we feel justified in hurting them in return. This creates a downward and destructive cycle. I Peter 3:9 tells husbands and wives not to repay insult for insult, but to answer an insult with a blessing. In this way, we inherit a blessing ourselves.
2) Because we are around our immediate family so much, we can take our husbands and children for granted. Thus, we may not put in the effort to treat them with courtesy. How often have I let weeks slip by without doing for my husband the same little kindnesses I would show to any guest in our home!! When I do remember to perform little courtesises for him, it makes him feel so loved.
I know we're all busy. But, this life is so fragile and so brief. Surely, it's important to invest some time in showing the people we love the most how grateful we are for them. After all, our spouses and children are gifts from God. The way we treat them is an index of our gratitude to God.
3) We are tired, and we want to relax and "be ourselves" at home. We want to indulge ourselves, rather than to be courteous. The question we all need to ask is why does "being myself" mean that I get to be rude to those I love the most? Here's where we need to go to Christ for a heart change. Being selfish and rude never brings us lasting rest; such rest is found only in Christ's arms.
4) The husband and wife become fixated on perfecting the other one. If they don't see the changes they want, they feel justified in treating their spouse with rude disdain. Yes, it's true that in a healthy marriage, a husband and wife can discuss problems and state preferences. At times, a husband and wife should also be able to help each other with sin. But, there is a balance here. If the husband or wife becomes self-righteous and starts to treat the other spouse as a "project" to be "fixed", the marriage is in trouble. If both are self-righteous and each one is locked in a battle to coerce the other one into "shaping up", the marriage is in double trouble!
Beware: Pointing loudly to your spouse's faults can be a way of hiding from your own sin. Jesus said to take the mote out of your own eye first. Then, he said, you can see clearly to help another person. Humility and kindness are powerful in creating a happy home; while self-righteous rudeness destroys happiness.
5) The wife is afraid, and her rudeness comes out of the temptation to control, rather than to honor, her husband. This leads her to treat her husband with far less courtesy than she would show to any one else! This opposes God's beautiful plan, where the wife lavishes her husband with respect. I Peter 2:19 through I Peter 3:22 tells us God's answer for a woman's fears in this area.
6) The husband plays the respect card when dealing with his wife. But, he doesn't read the accompanying verses about how he is to treat his wife as Christ loved the church -- by dying for her. So, he is harsh and clumsy with his wife and children, or he is neglectful of thier emotional needs. Now, this failure on a husband's part in no way justifies a wife's disrespect and rudeness. But, how beautiful it is to see a husband who does cherish his wife and his children and who treats them in a manner befitting a gentleman who is a follower of Christ.

If a lack of manners is a problem in your home, it may result from a bad attitude in your heart or it may simply be a bad habit that you've allowed yourself to get into. Either way, it's a simple thing to fix -- or at least to begin to fix. Notice, I said that it's"simple" to fix. I didn't guarantee taht it will be easy"easy". But, you can start the ball rolling by your own example. You can school your heart, your tongue, and your actions to create an atmosphere of courtesy in your home.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said that good manners are the "happy way of doing things". Do you want a happy home? Then, remember that "love is patient, love is is not rude," and act as love would act. I Cor. 13. There's no short-cut to get around this prescription for loving relationships.

Good manners are a balm. They soothe the irritations of daily life. Courtesy helps us achieve the peace we seek in our homes.

We all rise to our best when we are treated politely, and we are all tempted to sink to our wosrt when someone is habitually rude to us. Our family members are no different than we are. If we are consistently inconsiderate towards them, they will become downcast. They may do the opposite of what we are trying to accomplish through our rudeness -- They may run from God and from us. Yet, if we lavish good manners on them, we will see them bloom. Our kindness will draw our loved ones to us and will help them lift up their eyes to God, as well. God's word states this principle over and over in a number of ways.

Even if your marriage is deeply troubled, you can begin today to treat your spouse with basic consideration. In this way, you will be interrupting the downward spiral of your relationship and interjecting something positive. This will not be the only cure to your problems, nor will it be an instant one. But, planting seeds of good manners can pay off in future happiness.

Perhaps, your spouse is locked in a sin with destructive ramifications -- such as an addition. In that case, you will need to proceed with tons of prayer and lots of counsel. You may have to have serious conversations or to draw some firm lines. And, you may have to let your spouse know how deeply he or she has hurt you so that the spouse can connect the sinful behavior with consequences. But, even at this serious point, you can do this humbly and with respect. If the spouse feels your utter disdain, they may become discouraged and give up or they may rebel against God's word. If the spouse sees that you are firm, but also hopeful that God can still work in his or her life, the spouse may be inspired to get help. This is not to say that your spouse's sin is your fault. But, wouldn't you rather have the peace of knowing that you acted in Christlike love, rather than in vengance and spite?

Someone said, "Treat everyone with politeness, even those who are rude to you - not because they are nice, but because you are." That's true.

Taking it deeper, "Treat everyone with politeness, even those who are rude to you, not because you are perfectly nice, but because Christ is."



Sandra said...

Great post Elizabeth! Thanks for the reminder to use our manners with everyone including those closest to us.

Elizabeth said...

Thanks, Sandra.