Couple’s Etiquette

[toggle] [toggle_title]Read a Note from Dr. Sara on Etiquette[/toggle_title] [toggle_content]
ETIQUETTE – the conduct or procedure required by good breeding or prescribed by authority to be observed in social or official life
— Webster

Over the years I have worked with many individuals and couples who seemed to need very practical advice. They articulate problems that boil down to issues of respect, and how to best demonstrate it. I realized that many people were simply confused. How could they tell if their partners respected them? I believe that any relationship with lasting potential must have a strong component of respect.

Practicing good etiquette is a great way to show respect to your partner. There are certain objective standards that can help you succeed in your relationship in the social and private spheres. By nature, women are more delicate physically than men. I believe in equality between men and women, but not similarity. There are different etiquettes that men and women can practice that affirm their equal but dissimilar statuses.

I think feminism did a great job of liberating women in many respects, but it has also confused some men. Men have told me they don’t want to step on a woman’s independence by opening the door for her or picking her up at the airport. I think this is too extreme, don’t you? The fact is whether or not you agreed out loud, when you enter into a relationship with opposite gender, you agree to certain gender roles.

And so, as you begin 2012, I offer you Etiquette for Couples, Etiquette for Men, and Etiquette for Women that will make your relationship deeper, happier, and more auspicious in the new year.


1. Say ‘Please’ and ‘Thank You.’ It’s so simple, but so important.

2. Don’t ever go to the bathroom with the door open. There is nothing attractive
about seeing your lover producing any bodily products or smells. NOTHING. TRUST ME. When you were little, the only person who witnessed you producing these products and cleaning you up was your mother or caregiver. Would you like your partner to take on one of those roles? Then continue to pee in front of him or her. Otherwise, I advise you to close the door.

3. Respect your partner’s resting time. If you and your partner have different sleeping patterns—one of you is a morning person, one a night owl—make sure you respect their resting time. For example, if you need to wake up and exercise in the morning, it is your choice, not theirs! If it takes having one bed and two mattresses, do that. Or one of those fancy beds with settings on each side. If you need to get two blankets, get two blankets. Get a vibrating clock instead of a buzzer. Etiquette doesn’t end when the lights go out.

4. Look good. Why, when we move in together, do we start to slip on the hygiene front? Wear sweatpants round the clock? I’ve heard this complaint all too often: once you feel secure with someone, you let yourself go. It’s important not to be sloppy, not only for your partner, but for yourself. Ladies, shave your legs or wear pants. Gentlemen, shave your faces. When you get out of bed, the least you can do is put on a robe. I know there are women out there like myself who work long hours, so I’m not saying wear your heels or full makeup at home with your partner. But putting on a little lipstick doesn’t take much effort, does it? Conversely, I am not saying men should wear a suit or tie around the house. You can be comfortable, but presentable, too. If you only dress up when you go out, you send the message that you want to look good for other people. And guess what? When you go out, you don’t spend much time viewing each other. But when you’re at home, having dinner face to face, that’s when you develop your image of your partner, which could become a routine and unattractive one over time. Set a minimum standard for your appearance, regardless if anyone is around you. Nobody said keeping a relationship is easy. But if you want one (and it’s your choice!), looking presentable at home can help maintain it.

5. Don’t just find out your partner’s likes. Find out what he or she doesn’t like, too.
When on a date with someone new, there is a tendency to find out what the other person likes. What’s your favorite movie? What type of food do you like? Who’s your favorite band? May I gently suggest something else? Something like: What would drive you crazy about someone? This could shape or break your relationship! If I leave you after dinner, and I only know that you like Woody Allen’s movies, shellfish, and Tom Clancy novels, then I don’t know that you may hate guys who burp or lick their lips. Or women who giggle too much or play with their hair. I’ve missed two things that I could very simply avoid! And whatever response you get, try not to take it personally at the time. Think about it later. I also suggest that you show interest and probe further if appropriate. “I don’t like girls that wear too much makeup.” Don’t just nod and move on. Instead, “Oh really? How come?” It’s good etiquette to show that not only are you interested in someone’s likes to impress them, but you’re interested in his or her dislikes, which shows that you don’t get insecure easily, and are also open to other ways of thinking and possibly compromise.

6. Be nice to the people that matter to your significant other. Find out who matters most to your significant other. Try to understand those people. My grandmother used to tell me to imagine a triangle. At the top of the triangle is an individual. At the base are all the people that matter to the individual. You’re not in a relationship with an individual in a vacuum. You need to have genuine respect for the people that matter to
your partner. These are the people that guided your partner to the top of the triangle and will continue to shape him or her.

7. Don’t talk badly about your partner’s family. Even if your significant other trash talks a family member, you can support him or her without repeating their opinions. This follows the point above, so listen and express how you feel about the situation, saying things like I’m here for you or I’m sorry that this happened. But never talk poorly about the individual. Family, you never touch. Trust me—this is true across the world.

8. Honor your time together. Even if you’ve been together for ten years, when you’re alone with your partner, give him or her your undivided attention. Don’t check your blackberry at the dinner table. Don’t watch the TV that’s behind your partner instead of focusing on her face. When you are together, your time together needs to be your time together.

9. In the bedroom, don’t do anything that connects you to someone other than your partner. That means no checking your email, ipad, or playing on your laptop. With the exception of listening to music when you go to sleep, a technology free bedroom is a happier place. Connect with your partner in your bedroom, no one else.

10. Don’t make fun of others in public. If you’re out with your partner, never make faces, point, or be sarcastic about the other people you encounter. It’s in poor taste.

11. Dress appropriately for the occasion. Don’t be afraid to ask what the attire will be when meeting your significant other in a social setting, especially at the beginning of a relationship, when you may not know their social circles. If you don’t want to ask, always dress up rather than down. Or dress in a way that you could change it up or down if needed.

12. Apologize for answering the phone if you’re together. If it’s your first date or your 20th anniversary, verbally apologize for taking a phone call or doing something that takes you away from your moment together. Especially in a long term relationship, this shows your significant other he or she is your priority. This goes a long way.

13. Treat your partner well in front of others. It doesn’t matter if you’ve just had a fight or what your status is. Always treat your partner well and with respect in the company of others. Otherwise, this will only come back to shoot you in the foot. Making bitter comments in public is the least effective way of getting what you want. If you have ever tried it, you would know what I am talking about!

14. Smell good. But not too much. And a tip is that you can reserve particular fragrances for special intimate occasions only.

15. Don’t give gifts unless you know the person well enough to get him or her something personal. Expensive, showy gifts are overrated. If you can think of something that has a connection to a positive shared experience, I guarantee you’ll get a more positive reaction than something generic and pricy. If you had a funny or sweet moment that involved a donut, a gift that pays homage to the moment is better than an impersonal necklace. (As always, this depends on the person!)

16. Clarify and communicate your position on PDA. It’s your responsibility to think about what you’re comfortable with in public and to communicate that to your partner. Even if you just started dating, be clear about your preferences. If you are honest and transparent from the beginning, it makes confusion and frustration less likely to occur. And if you can’t communicate with your partner about this, this relationship is not going
to work out.

17. Hold back. Remain one step back from how you’re feeling. Especially at the beginning of a relationship and when it comes to having sex, don’t get ahead of yourself.

18. Don’t spill the intimate details in front of others. Yes, even in front of your closest friend or family members. An incident might be a funny one when it’s only the two of you, but a whole other story when shared with others. It doesn’t necessarily need to be sharing bedroom details but even something as simple as burning the food one of you cooked, would become an unexpected embarrassment for the other person in a particular social context.

19. Address your partner with their names, not their pronoun when he or she is present.

20. Be specific with your compliments. “You are so beautiful.” “You are so sweet.” “You are so strong.” “You are a great provider.” All of these are great, but not enough because out of context they sound like something that you could even tell your mom or dad! Try to attach something specific to your compliments once in a while to make it tailor-made for your partner. For example: “No one looks at me the way you do” or “Your eye make up looks very beautiful today.”


Take a moment to share your experiences and wisdom with me and the couples who would read this page. Let’s see how many more couple etiquettes we can come up with!


Read more on specific Etiquette for Men (Metiquette) and Etiquette for Women (Wetiquette).