Most of us have heard the phrase “date your spouse” before. I myself wrote a post about it here for Verily. But while ideas for what to do during your dates might be relatively easy to come by, the question of how to behave should also be addressed.
Remember your early dating days when you would stress out about your outfit, your breath, and the placement of your hands and elbows at the table? You were trying to put forth your shiniest self to make a good impression. It’s all too easy to think that once we’ve finally married this person, we can let our best behavior go by the wayside. I’m not suggesting that you keep those same nerves all life long. You certainly want to feel comfortable around your spouse. But being too lax can cause real problems. Laziness can give the impression that you don't care about the person you're supposed to (and really do!) care about most of all, so it's important to be on guard against that. But a few common courtesies kept up behind closed doors can go a long way towards marital happiness.
Manners, table and otherwise
The word that I really want to use here is good old-fashioned ladylikeness. Remember being taught this as a little girl? It seems to me that it becomes more and more important as you age simply because your body is breaking down, so it takes a little extra effort to sit up straight, refrain from slurping, and excuse yourself from the table briefly to blow your nose or the like. This sets a tone for the whole table and even the whole home. It inspires gentlemanliness in your husband and certainly makes it easier to teach your own children basic etiquette. Order on a large scale or a small one is a remarkably satisfying thing—a place for everything and everything in its place. This leads me right into...
Good naked, bad naked
Sure, much of the mystery in this department may have already disappeared. But don’t think about it like that. Keep up a little decorum in your birthday suit and some of that mystique can be easily maintained. As an avid fan of Seinfeld, I’ll use the example of Jerry’s discovery of “good naked” vs. “bad naked”. He begins dating a woman who is most comfortable totally in the buff at all times. George is envious, of course, but Jerry assures him that there are some major drawbacks to this: “Coughing? Naked? It’s a turnoff, man.” After watching his girlfriend struggle to open a jar of pickles, he shouts, “I can’t look anymore! I’ve seen too much!” George still doesn’t understand. Jerry explains: “Naked hair-brushing, good. Naked crouching, bad.” Married people know all about this and should be laughing right now. Better put a robe on it when you’re not in an amorous mode.
Secrets and surprises
Keep your cards close to your chest more of the time. Listen attentively and tuck away ideas for a little rendezvous or a special gift. Buy his Christmas present with cash so he won’t see exactly what it is when it pops up in Quicken immediately after you get it. Be thoughtful with those little touches that were always so delightful while dating. Hand-tie a ribbon instead of slapping on a bow. Splurge on a little truffle oil for his eggs since you know he loves them like that. He won’t always notice, but when he does, he’ll feel like he’s discovering a very special woman with whom he’d like to spend the rest of his life—and ah, how glad he’ll be that you already said yes.
Like every other relationship topic that I’ve written about, this takes real work. There will be many times when you “just don’t feel like” smiling or changing out of yoga pants or even closing the bathroom door. But I think the phrase “familiarity breeds contempt” is most true when laziness begins to seep in. Sometimes the only way to overcome sloth is to freshen up and pretend that you care, just as Hamlet tells his pernicious mother: “Assume a virtue if you have it not.”
This may seem phony, but there is real wisdom in it—even Shakespearean wisdom. Keep up those habits of politeness, playfulness, and hygiene by putting them on just as you get dressed in the morning (by the way, get dressed in the morning). Check on these things throughout the day, as you used to check your teeth on your early dates. The more you do it, the less difficult it will be, and you’ll sense with joy and excitement that your “best behavior” dating years are still ahead.