There’s a lot of skill involved in creating a home with a spouse. Our children will learn many of those skills from watching us, but we also have to consciously teach them skills. For example, it’s not enough to show that we speak respectfully even when we’re irritated. We also have to teach a child how to do this on his own.

The “togetherness” set of skills involves not only speaking in a pleasant way, but also acting with an awareness of how we’ll affect another person. Kids need to learn that their actions can make others feel more or less comfortable.

Partnership Skills

It can help to simply reflect on some of the required skills involved in partnership. Basically, partnership requires consideration of another person. It means noticing, caring about, and addressing the needs and feelings of that other.

Suppose, for instance, that a husband and wife are sitting together in the family room reading. The husband, developing a sudden thirst, gets up and heads toward the kitchen to get himself a drink. If he was living all by himself, that would be fine. But when one is blessed with a partner, one should notice, care about, and address the needs of that person. “I’m going to get myself a cup of coffee. Would you like one too?” asks the marriage-minded spouse.

Similarly, a teen sitting in the family room with his parents who gets up to get some water can — and should — offer to bring something back for his parents. “I’m going to get some water. Does anyone want anything?”

“Thanks so much for asking, honey. Can you please bring me a couple of tissues?”

Developing a “We” Consciousness

Teaching a child to think of others can be a straightforward process. For starters, you can let a child know how her behavior impacts others. “I know you don’t mind having your clothes all over the floor, sweetie, but your sister likes to have a clean floor. Since you share a room, it’s important to think of each other.”

Simple instruction is also a useful tool. “When you see one last cutlet in the fridge, honey, please ask if it’s being saved for anyone before you take it.”

It’s important to help children develop a “we” consciousness. You certainly don’t want them thinking only of themselves once they’re married. Training them to be aware that others may be hungry, tired, or in need of space or resources helps develop the consciousness that allows couples to look after each other.

“My husband acts like he’s still single. If he wants to go out, he doesn’t ask, ‘Do you need me tonight or would you mind if I did an errand after dinner?’ Instead he just announces, ‘I’m going to the store after dinner.’ He doesn’t offer to take a child along with him, or ask if I need him to pick up anything. He acts like a teenager with no responsibility to anyone.”

Even a teenager shouldn’t be acting like he has “no responsibility to anyone.” If children and teens are allowed to think only about their own needs, they may find it challenging to adjust to the demands of marriage.

Beyond One’s Comfort Zone

It’s natural for people to be self-focused. Although there are exceptions, most people need to be taught and guided toward a “we” mentality.

“Mendy isn’t a big talker. And he doesn’t seem to care if I’m bored silly sitting at the table with him. If I ask him why he doesn’t make the effort to converse, he says things like, ‘That’s just the way I am’ or ‘I have nothing to say.’ I’m his wife, but I feel lonely and isolated when I’m with him. I feel like he needs to push himself a little.”

Yes, people need to push themselves in marriage — a lot. However, when parents teach their kids how and why to keep others’ needs and feelings in mind, they give them a head-start. Directing young children to share their treats with siblings (“because they want some too”) and older teens to help with cooking and cleaning (“because we all help out so that no one has to do all the work for everyone else”) are just a few examples of the endless possibilities for teaching the skills of togetherness. (Originally featured in Family First, Issue 554)