As most of us were growing up and being socialized, we were taught the skills to get along with others. Barring personality disorders, mental illness or other major impediments there is little that holds us back from the exercise of those fundamental skills which we commonly refer to as manners or common courtesies. We use them in our everyday interactions with strangers we meet in passing: we hold the door on an elevator, we smile and say hello, we ask an older person if they need help, or we let someone with only a couple of grocery items go ahead of us. These are the common courtesies that we casually extend to strangers. We feel good about ourselves when we extend kindness to others.
Following or leading up to divorce or separation, the common courtesies may disappear. Relationships may be fraught with conflict and anger and most people are not at their best. Relationships with the ones we have divorced or separated from become strained and lack the simple common courtesies that we extend even to strangers. To build a more positive future, a return to those courtesies is needed. There seems to be an even greater need for them with the people we are or were closer to than there is with strangers.
These are the people we have shared a deep and intimate bond with. Usually there is an ongoing relationship because there are still children to be raised together. While it may be easier to give a stranger the courtesies we think of as common because we don’t have the anger and history we have with an “ex” the truth is that we also don’t have the intimacy and shared family bonds. Finding the ability to give to that person the same treatment that you give regularly to strangers should not be so difficult when you consider the reward to yourself and to your children. Ask yourself – what prevents you from extending those courtesies to the other person? Are you extending those courtesies to your children? Think about it. Think about the example to set for your children. Examine your motives. Then make the effort and commitment.
This simple, but admittedly difficult, change in perspective to extend social kindness and respect may bring surprising changes to our lives and those of our children. Modeling behavior for our children is a basic parenting skill. More importantly, it brings more civility to your own life and to those around you.
David S. Rolfe
David S. Rolfe, L.L.C.