I know I am not the only person who has friends that I really enjoy spending time with one-on-one but who I dread socializing with when their partner joins the party. Sometimes, their sweetheart just isn’t my “cup-of-tea.” But more often than not, I can’t tolerate the way they behave towards one another when they’re together. I am not sure how and why it happens but many couples lose their good manners after they’ve been together for a while. As a friend I find this obnoxious and unpleasant. As a sexuality counselor I can tell you it leads to a world of trouble in a relationship and nothing good will come of it – especially where sex is concerned.
Most of us start off a new relationship on our best behavior. We pay close attention to personal grooming, politeness, and do our very best not to interrupt our date when they’re telling us a story or giving us their opinion about something. We all know that not doing so can reduce our chances for another date in the future. And yet, once the relationship is well-established — especially over years — it is easy to slip and slide into conversations and behaviors void of even a wit of the good etiquette we cultivated when we first met.
Saying things like: “Yes please,” “Thank you,” “May I,” “You’re welcome,” and of most importance a sincere, “I apologize” shouldn’t fade after the blush of new love has worn off. These time-honored expressions of appreciation and respect gain strength and momentum as indicators of how you don’t take your loved one for granted. When first meeting couples for counseling, I watch and listen closely to how they talk to and about one another. I am not doing this just to follow the story line. I want to see what side of the fence their manners fall on — ‘Downton Abbey’ or ‘Animal House’. If I find myself cringing and then reaching for Emily Post’s: Etiquette it indicates that the couple has lost their decorum. I have rules in my office which include: “You must speak politely to one another.” This is an important starting point and in its absence, nothing I say or do will help the couple achieve any resolution or regain their intimate satisfaction.
Good manners are appealing, alluring, and sexy. That is why you focused on them in the beginning. You were hoping they would help ignite the flame and chase of new romance. When I counsel a couple whose sex life has tanked and their verbal communication is barbed, crude, and mean it’s no surprise they’re not having sex. Who would want to have sex with someone who is rude to them? I recently worked with a woman whose partner said: “You’ve gotten so fat! I can’t imagine having sex with you now.” Personally, had I been on the receiving end of that I would have immediately reached for my favorite Ben and Jerry’s to cool the burn. In contrast if they were to hear: “Your weight worries and distracts me from sex because I can’t stop focusing on how it is impacting your health and our life together. How can I help you with this?” the burn might have been avoided all together.
Men in relationships with women who they feel are always focused on work, kids, and friends and never on them tell me they are lonesome for their partner and feel uncared for. The well metered, self-disclosing, and emotional statement: “I am lonesome for you and this is why I complain about our not having sex more often” is very different than: “All you ever do is crap for the kids and your parents.” Needless to say, the former is likely to yield a better outcome. And, waking up and bidding a pleasant: “Good morning” even if the morning is not your jolliest time of day is polite, respectful, and sets a positive tone for the day. It also shows that you acknowledge your partner and despite your grouchiness, are willing to rise to the occasion on their behalf. This is a statement and act of generosity towards the one you love.
Maintaining a healthy intimate relationship isn’t easy. Life is demanding, fast-paced, and tiring and all of us will move in and out of feeling feel drained and frustrated by life’s events. All the more reason to take a few moments to think about what you’re about to say, how you’ll say it, and how it’s likely to be received. You don’t have to be an Emily Post scholar to make this work. But you do have to believe that your loving partner is as deserving, if not more so, of your best behavior than everyone else you encounter in life. Believe it or not, this is sexy stuff and a strong adhesive for a satisfying intimate life.
Author Evelyn Resh, MPH, CNM, is a certified sexuality counselor with The American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists. She has just written a fascinating new book, Women, Sex, Power & Pleasure: Getting The Life (And Sex) You Want.
Copyright E. Resh, 6/2013