OPINION: Why a hello and goodbye kiss can save a relationship

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Sarah Kingston
www.sarahkingstonphotography.co.uk

Most marriages start with a kiss - and keeping that greeting going during them can really help, says Christine Webber - Credit: Archant/Sarah Kingston Photography

I’ve been thinking a lot about relationships – partly because they’re so important but also because I’m aware some may suffer as many people return to a commute and their workplaces, and have less time for their partners.

So, I thought I’d pass on something I learned early in my career as a therapist, and it’s this: always make a point of saying ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ to your other half.

Sounds basic, doesn’t it? But it’s easy to find yourself neglecting to do it.

I remember counselling a couple whose marriage was in real trouble.

They were both distressed and cross, and it took a while for them to relax in my company.


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But then, as often happens, they started to say things to each other in my presence that they had never felt able to discuss at home.

And the wife suddenly launched into an account of everything that was wrong with their evenings.

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She said that when her husband arrived in from work, he never sought her out, or even called out to say he was back. Instead, he walked straight to the fridge, fetched a can of lager and then threw himself onto the sofa and drank it.

The husband agreed he did this but couldn’t see anything wrong with it. He had, he told me, invariably had a hard day at the office, with a nightmarish commute to and from work as well – so, he saw this as his time to relax.

The wife confirmed that he worked hard and that of course he was entitled to relax, but said that she felt ignored and taken for granted.

She was usually cooking when he came home, and helping children with their homework, and felt as though she was invisible.

"And then," she continued, angrily, "after he’s lain around on the sofa, eaten the meal I’ve cooked and watched TV all evening, he sometimes puts his hand on my knee at bedtime, which I know means that he’d like us to go upstairs and have sex. And when he does that, I want to kill him."

As you can imagine, this was quite a serious moment in the consulting room. So, we discussed it and I asked the wife how things could be improved.

Her answer was very simple. She said: "When he gets home, I’d like him to come and say hello to me and the kids, and give me a kiss. If he could do that, I’d be quite happy for him then to have a beer and put his feet up."

The husband looked amazed but then, to his credit, he said: "I’m sorry. Of course, I can do that. And I will." And they looked at each other and, for the first time, I saw them exchange a warm smile.

I’ll always remember that session because it gave me such insight into how often little things fester and become huge problems.

I know a woman who was stressed and busy one morning, so when her husband called out that he was off to work, she didn’t bother to go to the front door to bid him farewell and hug him.

As it happens, that man never came home again, because he died that day when he crashed his motorbike into a lorry.

I don’t think his wife ever got over it. Well, you wouldn’t, would you? And every day of your life, you would regret the fact that you hadn’t parted for that last time in a much more loving way.

It’s such a small thing but really important. And I think it’s equally vital for people to do it even if they’re retired or both working from home. Indeed, I believe that saying ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ also improves the quality of the brief encounters we have with people we don’t even know.

Twenty-odd years ago, I was taught this lesson – and I never forgot it.

We were on holiday in Brittany. Overnight, the weather had changed from chilly to scorching. So, right after breakfast, I rushed off to the nearest clothes store, and went in and asked the salesman, in not very good French, if he had any shorts and T-shirts.

He gave me a withering stare. Then said, in very crisp English: "And good morning to you, Madame!"

I was mortified. I realised immediately I’d come across as rude and ill-mannered, and it wasn’t as if I didn’t know that French people set great store by the etiquette of proper and polite greetings. In my haste, I just forgot.

So, I apologised profusely, several times, and the purchase was made. But I don’t think there was much entente cordiale going on that day!

Since then, I’ve always tried, wherever in the world I’ve been, including here, to say ‘hello’ and ‘how are you?’ to people serving me, before I launch into what I want.

As my old gran probably used to say: "Courtesy costs nothing."

 And that’s true – and what’s even more true is that it’s generally greatly appreciated.

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