A friend of mine that is a respected business owner and church leader occasionally relates a story of which he is not proud. When he was still fairly newly married, he and his wife attended a large family gathering. At the gathering he told a joke at his wife's expense. His grandfather looked at him and very publicly dressed him down for disrespecting his spouse.
"She is your sweetheart and bride," my friend's grandfather said. "You are to treat her with the utmost respect at all times." Grandpa demanded that the young groom apologize to his wife. My friend admits that his grandfather had done a fine job of modeling the behavior he was advocating and is grateful to have learned this lesson early in his marriage. He and his wife today provide a fine example for their own expanding brood of grandchildren.
I am not fond of pranks or jokes made at the expense of others. Ever since I was young it has always hurt inside when I have seen someone else hurt through this kind of thing. My wife might correct me, but I do not believe that I have ever turned a joke on her.
My Mom had only sons. She taught us about cooking and domestic chores, but Mom had no daughters to dress up. As she had my brothers before me, Mom carefully educated me about dating rituals and how to properly respect women when the time came.
Although I didn't often see Dad open the car door for Mom, doing so has become a ritual for my wife and me. It follows the pattern Mom taught me. With few exceptions, I open the car door for my wife when we are traveling in the same vehicle. I open doors to buildings and rooms for her.
I don't do this because my wife is incapable of opening the doors herself; I do it to show my respect and love for her. It's not a matter of necessity. It's a matter of enhancing our relationship. Although it would sometimes be easier for my wife just to open the doors herself, she usually graciously allows me to do so. We find it a mutually joyful ritual.
Growing up in a houseful of boys, I didn't develop many tender touching skills. Boys often show their affection by punching, wrestling, and tussling. Tenderness didn't come into the picture much. Although it still doesn't come completely naturally to me, my wonderful wife often draws me into tender touching rituals. Despite our many years of marriage, we often hold hands or engage in other minor displays of affection.
I would be lying if I said that I never got frustrated with my wife. While I still have a long way to go in learning not to be critical, I try very hard not to badmouth my wife to others. It seems to me that those that do so tend to have rocky marriages. I'm not sure whether the complaints precede the relationship problems or vice versa; or maybe it's just a self defeating cycle. But certainly removing the griping can go a long way toward preventing or repairing problems.
The longer I am married, the more I am convinced that Mom was right about the little things. Seemingly minor positive relationship rituals make a major difference. Although it may appear that these things come naturally to some couples, these exercises require continual thoughtful effort. But the reward is sweet.