We've been married for over five years now, have two little kids and our relationship is as good as can be. We both value harmony very highly and thus tend to avoid an open conflict whenever possible - and so far there was little to none reason for serious conflict, whatsoever.

The "problem" is quite simple: My wife hardly uses the word "please" whenever she asks me (or our kids) to do something. It's not that she's particularly impolite, constantly bossing me around or something - she's always very friendly, it's just that she almost never says "please". I can only speculate but I think part of the reason is "efficiency" when speaking. As a teacher she talks a lot at work and at home, so I think she instinctively tries to avoid "unnecessary" words.

As long as we didn't have kids that didn't bother me at all, but now I think we both should act as a good example for our kids not just teaching them "manners", but actually behaving in the very way we expect them to behave - whenever that is appropriate. (Especially when talking to kids, there are of course plenty of occasions in which you do not say "please" or even refrain from being "polite" for a good reason.)

It is, however, my point of view, that when talking to your spouse the use of the word "please" should be the rule rather than the exception. Of course I do not expect my wife - or anyone - to fall on their knees saying something like "If it doesn't bother you lordship, would you be so kind and pass the salt, please." but a simple "Pass the salt, please." would be perfectly fine.

The "usual" way of asking for the salt would be a simple, friendly "Would you pass the salt?". As I've said: She's not simply issuing commands. There have been outsiders interpreting it that way, but this is rare and it's not relevant for me as I don't perceive it this way and this is all that counts.

So far I've tried to be a good example - maybe even to the point of being slightly "over-polite", though I don't think that is a problem.

I've raised the issue a couple of times primarily focusing on trying to be a good example for our kids plus - less important, but still an issue for me - my personal feelings and my wife said she understands what I'm saying and that I'm "somewhat right", but doesn't change her behaviour - at least not enough for me to notice.

All this is far from being important enough to me as to raise a "major conflict" over it - maybe not even a minor one. I'd prefer her to understand what I'm trying to say (and act accordingly) rather than to just adapt her behaviour "because I said so".

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    Have you gotten her to expand on what she means when she concedes that you're "somewhat right"? On a fundamental level, I personally don't see a difference in manners between "Would you pass the salt?" and "Pass the salt, please.", if said with a polite tone. – JMac Jul 16 at 14:30
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    Could you tell us your and your wife's nationalities? It's relevant because different cultures use the word differently. For example UK English speakers say "please" very frequently compared to Americans, while to US English speakers using the word "please" too much can sound bossy or rude. – Fiona Jul 16 at 15:52
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    Your primary argument is being a good example for your kids, but I'm reading more "I think they should behave this way" and less "we think". What does she think about this? Does she agree that your kids should be raised to say please (especially considering she doesn't feel the need to say please herself)? Does she agree to change but fail, or does she just give some vague agreement with what you're saying with no commitment or desire to change? Those would be fundamentally different problems. What makes you think she doesn't understand but just doesn't want to change? – NotThatGuy Jul 17 at 9:28
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    @WendyG Why did you add remember in the title? It implies that she is convinced and needs help not forgetting, but the question really seems to be about convincing her. – Jasper Jul 18 at 12:16
  • @jasper it seemed right at the time, and a damn sight better than "tell my wife to do it" – WendyG Jul 18 at 13:57

12 Answers 12

up vote 45 down vote accepted

My experience is that when you and your co-parent have differing values about something that impacts the children, but it isn't a life-or-death matter, it's better to consistently model your own values yourself than to attempt to change your spouse.

Assuming you're a constant, significant presence in your children's lives, they will get an adequate exposure to the desired value through you, and they'll get an additional, valuable lesson about respecting other people's choices and coexisting with differing value systems. Morals are kind of like vitamins. They are vital to life, but you don't have to get all the same set of morals from every source in order to thrive. If they get Moral A from you and Moral B from their mom, they'll still end up with a full set of what they need.

That's not to say you should stand by and watch your spouse teach your kids something you find truly morally abhorrent, but it doesn't sound like any of your disagreements rise to anywhere near that level. (If they did, that would probably be something you'd need to work out between yourselves, independent of any involvement of the kids.)

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    @Thomas Just as a side note, it has helped me to remind myself that I am responsible for raising my children, but not for "raising" my spouse. – Chris Sunami Jul 19 at 15:25

I have a radically difference experience with this having traveled all over the US and now live in a foreign country.

First, I believe the framing of this question is incorrect, so I'm going to present some background information first. This is almost as different as a dialect issue between different areas.

In some parts of the country, people say "soda" when referring to a generic soft drink. In the south, we say "Coke", other places say "pop." What you're asking your wife to do is change her dialect (in effect). To many people, the inflection of "I would like you to clean your room" is just as polite and possibly even more correct than "Clean your room, please."

Even though it's acceptable (and even flattering) in some parts of the world, we aren't talking about something so "given" as asking her to stop burping at the dinner table. You're trying to fix something that isn't broken by the standards she was raised. That's a harder sell, and if you really think this is important, it's going to have to be a decision that you make together on how to raise your children.

Sit down with her, discuss that this is how you were raised and it's important to you. Reassure her that you understand that you realize that not saying please and thank you aren't necessarily wrong, but this is a big deal for you and it's something you'd like to teach your children.

If you both agree on THAT level, than simply responding with reminders to your children when they don't say please will work its way naturally into your parenting habits, and she'll start doing it.

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    I disagree with your assessment @Ian, and a quick Google search would reveal that there's a difference of opinion on when, and how often you should say "please" and "thank you". huffingtonpost.ca/rhonda-scharf/… psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/ambigamy/200902/… In my experience, in the north tone is much more important than the actual words, where in the south we have the importance of the words themselves drilled into us from a young age. – AHamilton Jul 16 at 13:46
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    if you could edit in those links (and the relevant information in them) into your post in some way, that'd be great! Links can break, so it's great to have excerpts of the most important information in them in your answer (and references do make for a stronger answer). Please don't leave them in a comment, where a much smaller part of the people reading your answer might actually find them (and read the relevant bits). – Tinkeringbell Jul 17 at 17:55

You're already doing a great job presenting your arguments for teaching the kids to say 'please' here, and you've also shown understanding that your wife may not even deliberately not say 'please'. So, there's a pretty good chance that your wife will understand if you talk to her about it, and adapt her behaviour, naturally, with a few reminders. This might take time though, since you're asking her to change something she's probably not even consciously not doing.

Since you're worried about her doing it only because you've asked her to, don't directly ask her. Instead, you can use a tactic my mom used a lot in raising me, and which I've seen works well for dealing with people (be it co-workers or friends) as well. Use it with care, because if you do it badly your wife will certainly feel that you're setting her up. The technique is centered around the principle of presenting your idea in such a way, that people don't think it's your idea, but their own. I've personally noticed that if something was 'my own idea' it's also easier to remember and stick to it.

So, instead of saying to her 'I have an idea, I'd like you to say 'please' more so the kids have a good role model', make sure the conversation you're going to have meets a few (if possible all) of these points:

  • Don't say 'I have an idea'. Don't say it's your idea. Never. This also includes 'I've been thinking about' or anything else including a pronoun that refers to yourself. Instead, go for stuff like 'Have you noticed our kids don't often say please?' or 'Would you think our kids need to learn to say 'please' more often?' or, if you want to avoid giving the impression of using the kids as a tool for bargaining: 'Do you think we're being good role-models when it comes to being polite?'
  • Give a very global overview of what you want to achieve. In this case, that would be the parents setting an example and the kids saying please and being polite: 'Do you think the kids realize they could say please more often?' 'Do you think the kids need better examples?' 'Are we doing okay with setting that example?'
  • Hopefully, she works something out like 'If I said 'please' more, the kids might start doing so as well!' If she does, compliment her for realizing that, and for having such a great thought!
  • Alternatively, instead of just pointing out what being a role-model can achieve, you could point out what might go wrong if they don't learn to say please. This is hard, since both your wife and your kids seem to be doing fine, so unless you've got a great example, I'd leave this be for now.

If your wife comes up with solutions to the problem that aren't quite what you want, you could point her in the right direction by making suggestions of your own. Use positive reinforcement and feedback techniques, so point out that your wife came up with a great solution, but it might be even better if...

In short: If you're worried about someone only doing something because you asked them too, don't directly ask them and see if they come up with the same thing to do on their own.

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    If Thomas' wife does not habitually say "please", it may well be that it this bit of politeness is simply not as important to her as it is to him. In which case, her answer to your proposed first bullet-pointed question might well be that no, she doesn't see a need for the children to change, nor for her. So it would come down to a case of dealing with different expectations regarding politeness. Any thoughts on that? – Stephan Kolassa Jul 17 at 6:29
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    @StephanKolassa I think it's safe to say that since OP wants his wife to say please because she wants to, and not because he told her, that if his wife doesn't want to say please more often, it's better to leave it be. OP also said they don't want to have a minor/major conflict over it, and that his wife said he's 'somewhat right'. So I'd say OP should do whatever he feels like is right (say please) and let his wife do whatever she wants (ask without saying please). I'm not expecting a conflict if the wife says it's okay to say please more often, but refuses too herself. – Tinkeringbell Jul 17 at 6:58

You have mentioned a very important aspect: being an example for your kids, and from this point, I'd like to show you a deeper perspective.

You said you have talked to your wife but doesn't work for now. I believe her and I understand her, since it's not easy to lose old habits and replace them with new ones. It will be hard for her since for years she hasn't used "please" to start use it suddenly. So give her time and (here's my point) be an example for her, first.

That means, use please whenever it could be necessary. You can even abuse of please from time to time.

Would you hold this for me, please?

or

Would you wait for me, please?

or

Could you pass me the salt, please?

Use it as often as you can, and mark it. Use it with your kids, with her, when you are only the two of you, when you are all family together.

Why am I proposing this? Because couples tend to speak, look, act and think in the same way. So if you have a habit in saying please, if you'll do that every time it will be necessary and if you'll teach your children to say it, your wife will just get there too.

Before you both be an example for your kids, you have to be an example for your wife first, not because she doesn't know, but because she needs to inherit this habit from someone. And this someone... is you.

I'd like to challenge the mindset of your question here:

It sounds like you feel your wife is still polite, at least to some degree, when asking for things. Instead of explicitly teaching your children to say "Please" and "Thank You" always, you could instead look at this as teaching your children different ways to be polite.

It's been my experience that sometimes, saying "Please" when being polite is completely misinterpreted as being condescending. I'm not sure how common this is, it's only an experience I've been fully aware of recently, but I do feel it's common enough to take into account. In that case, learning how to be polite without having to say specific keywords can be very useful.

You, from the sounds of it, are modeling the classic model of politeness, using the proper words and tone. That's great, and I don't suggest giving it up! It's still important for children to learn the polite words, how to say them, and when to use them.

But it's also important to teach them to be polite through expression, tone, and body language alone. In some situations, please and thank you truly are unnecessary. In others, if used, they can come across as thinly veiling a demand to be a "polite request" instead. Being able to be polite without the "magic words" is just as important as knowing the magic words and how to use them correctly.

I recommend sitting down with your wife and having an honest discussion on what skills of politeness you each model for your children. If you do feel your wife could be a bit more polite without having to use the words, that may be another thing to bring up with her. It may be that her comment that you are "somewhat right" is in line with what I'm proposing here: She feels like "please" is indeed important, but also that being able to be polite without a "please" is important, and that you each model a different form of politeness.

Just remember: Simply using the word doesn't make the request polite. Tone, expression, and body language are just as important as the words. To use one of your examples, "Pass the salt, please" might not be "polite" if you use a bored, commanding, or aggressive tone. A simple "Would you pass the salt?" with a friendly tone, a cheerful smile, or other polite body language can likewise be "polite" and not even need the word.

While "Pass the salt, please" with the same body language as "Would you please pass the salt?" would come across as more polite, faking it for the sake of teaching your children to say "please" could backfire if it comes out as less-than-friendly for any reason. (I'm not saying you do this, or that this is guaranteed if you are always using please. We are, however, human, and humans can make mistakes or say things with a different tone than intended.)

Are you my partner? Just kidding. You do sound a lot like my partner. Here's our story.

I'm notoriously bad at saying "please". I must've dropped the habit somewhere. That's what it really is, a habit. Not that I am impolite - at least I hope I am not - but I just forget. I'll use it in some phrases, like "Could you pass the salt please?", but I'll forget it in others like "When you're over there, would you mind grabbing my keys for me?". It's subcontious.

It's all a matter of habit. I hadn't noticed until my partner brought this to my attention. Habits are difficult to break, but also difficult to create. To get her into this new habit, as with any habit, you want two things:

  1. You want her to be commited to getting into the habit.
  2. You want her to actually stick to the new habit.

For 1, you want to talk with her and see what she things. Ask her if she wants to commit to it. If she doesn't, I'm afraid it won't work. 2 is harder to help with. She'll have to do that mostly on her own. My partner helped me by saying "Please" every time I forgot the phrase and we could not be overheard. His goal was not to embarrass me, after all.

Here you can find some more tips to help you get into habits. Some seem relevant: https://www.lifehack.org/articles/featured/18-tricks-to-make-new-habits-stick.html

  • I don't get it; why does "Could you X?" or "Would you mind X-ing?" need an extra 'please'? The conditional mood + question structure is an equivalent politeness marker, no? – ruakh Jul 20 at 4:59
  • @ruakh you’d have to ask OP or my partner. They seem to feel it is required. There is cultural difference between me and my partner though. Feel free to ping me in chat if you’d like to chat about this. – Belle-Sophie Jul 20 at 5:20

I'm fairly certain that if your wife is a teacher she would expect manners in those she teaches. If that is the case then she is almost certainly aware of the use/lack of use of the word. This is a good thing, because when someone has reached adulthood and is either in, or out of the habit of doing something it can be hard to "un-learn" that behaviour. But if she can detect the word is missing from your children, or from her students, then she should have the level of awareness to change it in herself.

It is a fairly straightforward discussion that you need to have, and the words should be obvious. The pitfall is that you don't want to sound patronising when you speak to her about it. When one adult treats another adult like a child or if one perceives it that way then arguments almost always ensue.

You need to fall back on your long relationship. You've been married 5 years, together probably more, and you have kids. You know each other pretty well, and this is evident by the fact you already have an explanation as to why your wife doesn't say "please" - you think she is being efficient. She sounds very practical, and so if you approach this in a practical way I think you'll get the best results.

Perhaps say:

You know I was thinking about the example we set for our kids when it comes to saying "please" and "thank you". I've never been bothered about this when we talk to each other, because I know you so well I guess some things just go without saying. But I think we should make more of an effort to always say please to set an example for the kids. What do you think?

And see where it goes. It is less confrontational to say "we" rather than "you", but if she does press you to say you mean her then do your best not to be accusatory. Your point needs to remain that it doesn't matter so much to you because you know she has a good heart and isn't impolite.

In the UK (and maybe other places) parents ask "what's the magic word?" when kids forget to say please.

If your kids are old enough start saying it to them, they will pretty soon start taking great joy is then saying it to Mummy (well mine do to me).

it could also be your wife is mildly autistic (or maybe not), as one conversation that has made me open my eyes

him: "why don't you say thank you?"
me: "I forget, but you know I mean it"
him: "we don't know that"

thinking people know what you know is a trait, and just realising this really helped me remember to use the simple words that had seemed pointless.

So ask her why she doesn't say it.

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    This is a perfectly good answer, but I'm not sure the suggestion OPs wife is "mildy autistic" has any real basis (and if you feel it does, a suggestion that somebody seeks diagnosis, should be seriously substantiated) - or is particularly useful in the context of this question. Forgetting that other people don't percieve your implied thanks the way you thought, is a normal part of human interaction - that I feel stands up by itself without needing a deeper cause. – Bilkokuya Jul 16 at 12:18

Find out what her views are

You mention she said that you're somewhat right, meaning she doesn't fully agree with you, which explains why nothing is changing. I think you need to ask her what her view is--in what ways does she think you're right, and in what ways does she think you're wrong? If you want to work together as a couple on this, you first need to understand where she's coming from. This is an opportunity to learn where she is coming from. Doing so will help inform your next move: whether you continue to push the issue, and if so how. It will also show her that you care about her thoughts and feelings in the matter, which is very important in a marriage.

I think you perhaps have missed an important detail. If your wife is a teacher she is used to assuming an authoritarian position. So to the kids in class it isn't "Please be quiet" but rather "Be quiet."

Talk to your wife and she if she is willing to make this a game with the kids. So if she tells, not asks, one of your children to "Pass the salt" then have the kid ask "What is the magic word?"

First this would help the kids learn good manners. It might also help her differentiate between being at work and be out and about in the world. But remember the old adage... "If mama ain't happy then nobody's happy."

I have this same issue with a family member, who also happens to be a teacher. I wonder if it is habit acquired from being in an environment where you have to manage small children all day every day and speak with authority.

The frustration we have as a family is that she doesn't asks but instead orders people to do things for her. It's very stressful to be constantly ordered around instead of asked and visiting for too long is an exhausting, painful experience.

She will say things like: "Go get this for me" instead of "Would you get this for me?" and "Help me with this" instead of "would you help me/can you/please/etc."

After years of coaxing, gentle reminders, and family conversations, it is evident that she is content and happy as she is and has no desire to change. She continues to reinforce her own behavior by reacting instinctively in a way that demands that the world around her must change and accept her as she is; even to the point of tears.

She is a good person and has a kind heart. Although embarrassed when brought to her attention, she is not remorseful of this behavior and has never made an effort to change. She has told us, and continues to tell us, without ever saying aloud, that she does not want to change. And I know that she never will.

The takeaway from this is to have you will have to discover for yourself whether your wife has a real desire to change her behavior. Even if she says otherwise, her actions, her body language, and emotions will tell you the truth that even she might not accept.

Good luck.

From personal experience (not with "please" but with other things of a similar nature):

You should strive to be the best example. You cannot force others to be good examples. Children pick that up. I.e., if you consistently say "please" and "thank you", they will, very likely, do the same when they talk to you. Don't make it awkward by asking them to say "please". Just do it yourself.

They will probably talk differently to you and your wife, then. But that should be fine. In the outside world, they will eventually develop their own style, and use "please" when it is appropriate, and skip it when not.

A little thought experiment: what if your wife were be of the opinion that saying "please" is actually bad, and she wanted you to stop saying it, ever. How high do you rate the chance that whatever she says to you could sway your opinion, and make you stop saying it? Nothing good would come of it...

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