The 3 Non-Negotiable Baselines of Marriage (#1:Civility)

At our Couples Retreats one of our favorite topics of discussion revolves around the fact that, at least in this lifetime, none of us will ever live with a perfect partner who does and is everything we think they should do and be.

This leads to the inescapable conclusion that if we are to remain sane and happy in our marriages there are certain things that we will get to learn to live with and to forgive in one another. We have great fun with this subject at our Marriage Retreats and in every case our couples discover that, indeed, they can happily cut one another some slack regarding certain irritations and foibles, especially when they know that their partner is doing their best to build a better self and relationship. But the patience represented by such relationship generosity is not the topic of this and other upcoming posts.

Our intent here is to identify several areas that we refer to as Baselines of Marriage.  A baseline is defined as “an imaginary line or standard by which things are measured or compared.” In this case we will point to three components of a relationship that must be maintained above a certain line or standard, and cannot forever be simply shrugged off or patiently endured if behavior sags.

Should one or both partners be engaged in behavior that consistently violates one or more of these baselines, they must work through appropriate means to improve the situation or will face the weakening and eventual collapse of their relationship foundation.

Today we will consider the first of these baseline relationship requirements:

Civility– To go out into the world and exercise common courtesies and graciousness then return home and treat our loved ones with indifference or meanness is unconscionable. While we all have a bad day occasionally and might, in a moment of frustration, say or do something hurtful or insulting to another, it must be the rare exception. No one should have to long live with emotional or verbal abuse. “Please” and “Thank You” should never go out of style. We all have the ability to modulate our tone of voice away from shouting, accusing, or belittling.

We need not label one another in derogatory ways; biting sarcasm has no place in a loving family. Constant reminders of perceived weaknesses and failures are a form of aggression that damages everyone involved.

There never has been and never will be an excuse for treating others with anything but respect and dignity, even when we think our loved ones might not have “earned” it. We will find that as we treat others with that respect and dignity, their behavior will almost always improve and they will reflect the same back to us.

A lack of civility is a learned behavior. Sometimes those who are stunted in their kindness and civility have grown up in an environment where graciousness and politeness were unknown and bring that void into their relationships. In other cases feelings of frustration and hurt in the relationship can be translated into hard words and unkind behavior.

Do not despair if you see that your relationship has strayed out of bounds in this area. Becoming aware of the problem is often half the battle, and we have seen many couples turn the tide just through a little effort and practice.

The practice of civility in a home and relationship can, for a time, be led through the effort by just one of the partners, and even those unilateral efforts can make a big difference in thawing some of the ice from the relationship and bringing back some of the warmth of civility.

Yes, the underlying issues of trust, communication, accountability and others must be dealt with, but those issues will become much more manageable in an atmosphere of patience and civility.

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