By Ashley McIlwain
If you’ve ever been in a room with parents and their children, there will likely emerge some parenting themes. They are those lessons that parents are constantly trying to instill in the impressionable minds of their little people. In an attempt to mold their children into productive human beings that can co-exist with other human beings, they repeat themselves over and over and over.
Perhaps you are a parent, and you’re laughing to yourself thinking of your own broken-record attempts at rearing your children. Or you’re nodding your head in agreement and saying, “Preach!” because you’ve observed this repetitive process in the people around you – friends, family, that random lady in the grocery store. It’s just part of the parenting adventure – repetitious yet important messages being taught to those little people who have to learn the skills necessary for their lifetime.
What’s a bit ironic and humorous to me though is that some of the most universal parenting rules are the first things to go out the window in our own lives. In our own marriages, we abandon the very principles and absolutes for “playing nice” that we drill into our children’s minds. It seems our human nature bent toward selfishness is a lifelong battle.
It’s time for a refresher course on those simple yet necessary lessons on relating to others. That’s right; it’s time for us to practice what we preach. Instead of just telling children how they should treat others, it’s time we start showing them, and there’s no better way to do just that than by how we treat our spouse.
- Say please and thank you. “What do you say?” “Thank you!!!” One of the very first lessons we learn as a child and teach to our children is to say please when asking for something and thank you upon receiving something. Why? Because it’s the polite thing to do, and because we know that appreciation goes a long way.
Gratitude breathes life into your soul and into a relationship. To appreciate the gifts we are given and the kindness we are shown cultivates an underlying joy and attitude of thanksgiving within us and those we express it to. When we stop appreciating things, we start demanding them. Demands sever the flow of love while requests coupled with appreciation increase it. All too often we forget to ask and affirm our spouse in the big and simple things he/she does. We get caught up in the busyness of life or in the list of things we do that go unnoticed that we neglect to show the appreciation so desperately needed and craved by our spouse.
It’s time to get back to saying please and thank you.
- Share. Kids everywhere dread it. The moment when their parent or an adult demands they share whatever is in their possession at the time. “But I don’t want to share!” the child usually protests. Yet, we insist that sharing is a necessary part of surviving in relationships. Plus, it teaches the child how to be considerate of others and just a tad less selfish.
But, I ask you, when was the last time you shared with your spouse? Shared your life? Your feelings? Your emotions? Your time? When was the last time you sacrificed something for his/her benefit? When were you last considerate and a tad less selfish in an exchange with your spouse? We are taught as kids to share, and we teach our kids to share, but then we are stingy with our love, energy, time, and effort when it comes to our spouse and marriage. We need to take our own advice and start being forthcoming, considerate, and selfless with our spouse.
- Be nice. Straight up and straightforward – be nice. Children are taught that they must be nice. Why? Because who wants to be friends with someone who is mean, rude, or unkind? No one. So then, why are we mean, rude, and unkind to our spouse?
We try to justify our harsh words, our terseness, and our impatience with reasons that our spouse somehow deserves that treatment. But what do we tell children when they throw out the, “But he did …” or, “But she said …” We tell them that it doesn’t matter. Just because someone is unkind or hurtful to you doesn’t justify you “returning the favor.” Again, it’s time to take our own advice.
There’s no excuse for being disrespectful to your husband or unloving to your wife. There’s no justification for saying hurtful things or behaving inappropriately. It’s time to grow up, and be nice. When we return a jab with a jab, we simply beat one another up and both end up bloodied and battered. As the wise words of Proverbs 15:1 says, “a gentle answer turns away wrath.” Want to get somewhere with your spouse? Try kindness, respect, love, and grace. Try being nice.
- Don’t interrupt. It always makes me chuckle to try to have a conversation with someone whose kids are with them. About every ten seconds, there is an interruption. “MOM! MOM! MOM!” “Honey, please wait. Mommy is talking. Don’t interrupt.” Ten seconds later, the cycle repeats itself. The frustration shows on the poor mom’s face as she tries to teach both patience and politeness.
While adults interrupt slightly less often then children, they often forget their own proclamation that it’s rude to interrupt when it comes to their own conversations with their spouse. Especially when it’s a heated discussion, all pleasantries go out the window. Why? Because we value what we have to say more than we value what our spouse has to say. We’re more concerned with being heard than hearing. The result is usually that no one is heard, and nothing is resolved.
If we want to have meaningful conversation with our spouse let alone resolve conflict, then we have to learn to listen. That means we can’t interrupt what they have to say to interject our defense or own counterpoint. Wait your turn and take turns. Listen to gain understanding. It’s amazing what you might hear when you stop interrupting and start listening.
We teach children these lessons because we know they are vital life skills that they will need throughout their life. We know that they have to learn to be polite and kind, patient and caring, attentive and appreciative of others if they are to have healthy relationships. Yet, we often forget these fundamental and all-important lessons we preach and teach.
Marriage is about being respectful, loving, kind, and patient. It’s about selflessness and sacrifice. It’s about valuing our spouse and being appreciative for who they are and all that they do.
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