I am having extensive and protracted dental work done these days at a university clinic. The “protracted” part means I get to see two dentists on a semi-regular basis, often enough to make observations. What I have observed is that they are both foreigners from the Middle East and both speak Arabic and English and are punctual and thorough and go the extra mile for me, even giving me their cell phone numbers.
The last time I was in the chair I learned something that amazed me. One of their colleagues happened to come by the operatory and ask what the two of them were doing for winter break. The woman doctor replied that they would be going to their home country to visit her parents and their daughter.
My dentist team is married? And I never knew it or even guessed it.
But that is not the most startling part of my tale. What amazes me is this: The reason I never supposed that the two doctors were married is because they are always so careful to be courteous and kind and gentle in the way they speak to each other and serve each other. It is rare to see such care of expression in the marriages I know, where we more commonly find a sloppy familiarity that would never fly in the professional world.
Many years ago I heard this bit of counsel to a woman who was experiencing discord in her marriage: “Speak to your husband like you would to a stranger.” At first I thought that chilling advice—a demotion of the partner rather than the according of a more special status. And, to be sure, our conduct toward our spouse should be, if anything, better than that toward an acquaintance, for the spouse is the one who Scripture especially commands us to love and esteem.
But the more I saw of marriages, the more I saw the counselor’s point. For in many a union, it would be a step up to speak to one’s spouse as to a stranger. At least, it would be a good exercise at the beginning, to eliminate the most egregious of the verbal habits.
What a wonderful thing—and simultaneously what a sad thing—if someone were to come up to you and your spouse and say, “All this time, I didn’t realize you were married because you are always so thoughtful and kind in your speech to each other!”