Part 4 of 5 – The 5 C’s of Good Relationships: Courtesy

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By Faith Fuller

Courtesy is the fourth “C.” This is the fourth post in a series about the 5 C’s of Good Relationships.

When we mention the fourth C to people they are often surprised. Courtesy, after all, doesn’t sound like such a big deal after chemistry, commonality and conflict. But make no mistake, there are dark times in any committed relationship when it is courtesy that gets you through. Relationship is a journey through a landscape, and sometimes there are periods of desert or of storm. There are times of terrible tension, anger, or disappointment when at 3 am in the morning we wonder how we will get through it. At times of great strain, when it is hard to remember that we love one another, courtesy is the path we can walk. Courtesy is the behavioral form of respect. If respect is the experience of valuing another person, courtesy is the expression of it. The dictionary defines courtesy as (dictionary.com):

1) excellence of manners or social conduct; polite behavior.

2) a courteous, respectful, or considerate act or expression.


We are not talking about Miss Manners here–courtesy is a discipline. Courtesy is the care that we take to honor each other as we walk through life together. It is the small acts of kindness we do to support one another. It also supports Gottman’s mastery in relationship data that decreasing negativity in conflict is a predictor of longevity in partnerships.

Courtesy is also a form of restraint. We know our partners like no one else does. I know Marita’s deep places of insecurity and exposure. I know her vulnerable spots; the places where I could slide a shiv between the plates of her defenses. No one can damage us like our beloved can. It is the spiritual discipline of courtesy that prevents me from ever using certain weapons against her. Courtesy in tandem with compassion, stays the hand from the maiming blow. It is a form of mercy.

When things get tough, the tough get courteous. During times where there is ongoing strain or tension, try to treat each other with extra respect and thoughtfulness. These acts of care create the Gottman 5 to 1 positive bank account from which the relationship can draw.

​These things sound trite as I write them, but I know that these small acts are what keep the fabric of the relationship from tearing, when we are under strain. Practicing courtesy is a discipline and a form of gallantry. How do you and your partner work with courtesy?

Note: This was originally posted on our blog, relationshipsystemsintelligence.com in March, 2013
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