The Kindness of (to) Strangers

Blanche DuBois, a character in Tennessee Williams “A Streetcar Named Desire”, famously claimed, “I’ve always dependend on the the kindness of strangers”.

The importance of this line came back to me when I was talking to a couple in my office last week. I was again amazed by how life partners give themselves permission to speak to one another.  This couple had just returned from a self-described amazing vacation.  Unfortunately, old patterns reared their ugly heads on the return flight home.  While each made sure to impose themselves as little as possible on their fellow passengers, and took pains to be polite if that was impossible, they snarked and sniped at each other at every opportunity.  When I asked why the good opinions of complete strangers mattered more than the feelings of the other, they looked dumbfounded.  Their confusion only grew when I asked why they gave themselves permission to treat their partner in such an uncaring manner.

A fellow therapist, Frank Pittman, once observed, “Common courtesy plays a big role in happy marriages.  People who are permanently married are polite to one another.”

As Blanche knew, kindness goes a long way.  So why do we save our worst behaviors for our life partners.  It’s not that I expect couples to always live in “perfect harmony”.  Arguments, annoyances, and disappointments will always happen.  It’s how they are handled that determines the longevity of a relationship.

Nothing stops us from verbally taking our partner down.  The problem is that once those words are out there, we can’t take them back.  Even if we apologize and claim we didn’t mean them, the words linger in our partner’s memory.  Years ago there was a campaign against child abuse that said, “Words matter”.  I hold the same is true in marriage.

Do you want your partner to be polite, kind, and respectful to you?  Are you living the Golden Rule?

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