Post 15 Mind Your P’s and T’s

Some years ago, my wife and I had two other couples over to our house for an enjoyable evening of board games. One game was called Outburst, in which you are challenged to rapidly call out ten items to try to match those on a given list. The list might be foreign cars or famous actors or books or whatever. The category I most remember was “things your parents told you when you were a child.”

One of my partners, Rich Stimson, and I began to shout out “Wash your hands before dinner” and “Don’t talk with your mouth full” and “Close the door; we don’t live in a barn” and, well, you get the picture. We were making good progress toward the goal of ten, when all of a sudden our other partner Erl Hendrickson blurted out “Shut up, or I’ll nail your other foot to the floor.”

If you knew the usually calm and easygoing Erl, you would especially appreciate the shock and laughter that followed his contribution to the game. Needless to say, we did not score a point, as his suggestion was not one of the ten items listed. As I recall, neither Rich nor I could regain our composure to offer any more guesses before time expired for that round.

Just to remove any possible doubt in your mind, Erl was totally kidding, and neither he nor his parents would ever engage in such behavior. Calls to Child Protective Services were not appropriate or necessary. I recount this story for two reasons—actually, three.

The first reason is that it brings back a smile and great humor whenever I recall that event. The second reason is to remind you of the importance of keeping fun in your marriage and of having friends with whom to enjoy good times.

The third reason is to take a moment to recall one very important piece of advice, which most of our parents told us but which we may often neglect to put into practice. That would be to always say “please” and “thank you.” I’ve noticed over the years in my marriage‑coaching practice that couples who are in distress often forget these basic tenets of civility. Common courtesies that we extend to total strangers, we tend to withhold, at times, from those we love.

It’s so easy in a family setting to take one another for granted. Without common courtesies, our requests can easily come across more as demands or expectations. There’s an expression: “familiarity breeds contempt.” Well, I guess that might be true in some circumstances and relationships. I think for marriage it is more likely that “familiarity breeds complacency.” We somehow grow to feel our family members are stuck with us, so we no longer have to be nice to them.

While this practice may be common and easy to fall into, I’ve never seen it recommended in anyone’s “how to do marriage” book. While I’m on a roll with expressions, I’ll mention this one: “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.” You suppose it might be because they take better care of their grass on the other side of the fence?

I often say that I hate the expression (another one?) that “marriage takes work.” I work all day. I don’t want to have to think about having to work all night as well. So rather than “marriage takes work,” let me propose that “marriage takes determination and focus.” Please don’t fall into the habit of taking your loved ones for granted. Try saying “please” and “thank you” and “you’re welcome,” and any other courteous words you can think of, and I believe you’ll find them well received.

One last reason why we may hesitate to use such words is the pressure we find ourselves under in these busy, hectic times. Many of us are overburdened with work issues, family issues, health issues, etc. From our reservoir of pain and distress, we can easily withhold civility from one another. I can’t help you with the busyness other than to again suggest you read the book Margin by Dr. Richard Swenson.

In the meantime, let me remind you of one more bit of parental wisdom: “Mind your P’s and Q’s.” I don’t know what “P’s” and “Q’s” are, so I’ll just suggest you mind your P’s (pleases) and T’s (thanks). And, by way, thanks so much for reading this post.