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Your table manners suck: I want a divorce

But I'm scared to tell her in case she throws a steak knife at me.

Now take my wife. Please. She doesn't know it yet, but divorce has become a live option.

Her crime? This once wonderful human being has started to … the horror, the horror  ... PUT HER ELBOWS ON THE TABLE WHILE EATING DINNER!

I shouldn't be surprised.

Agreement on table manners or lack thereof is a precondition for marital bliss. If couples aren't compatible on the need for never touching that cutlery until every single person at the table has been served, then no amount of sex, money or friendship will help.

Occasionally this universal truth bursts forth like cob-of-corn juice into the public domain; as offensive to the unsuspecting spouse as curry-spiced spittle from his or her open-mouthed partner.

A few years back a Kuwaiti women filed for divorce from her husband of just one week who refused to use his fork to eat his peas.

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One of John Cleese's daughters, Camilla, reckons her much-divorced father and Fawlty Towers actor chews with his mouth open to aerate the food to improve the taste.

Jackie Kennedy-Onassis wrote in her diary that JFK and his family ate like pigs. Jackie reckoned the late US president's father, old Joe Kennedy, was the only one in the clan who passed mustard, sorry, muster, in table manners terms.

Granted, some couples get along because they both eat like pigs. God help their children and the future of civilised society.

Take Malcolm and Lucy Turnbull. There are two possible reasons their marriage has lasted 35 years – that's at least 10,000 formal dinners give or take a few buckets of cluck and chuck.

The pair could both have manners like Cookie Monster on Sesame Street. God help the renovated two-tabled dining room without possum wee at the Lodge.

Much more likely, the Turnbulls know to keep their elbows off the table and not talk while chewing. That must be especially difficult for the Prime Minister.

But all those impeccable manners from the First Couple could be about to vanish.

That's one conclusion from psychological research released last month by University of California Berkeley's Social Interaction Lab. The Lab's so-called "Cookie Monster" study shows people who attain power tend to "eat with their mouth open, lips smacking, crumbs literally like falling onto their sweater". It's ridiculous, according to study leader, professor Dacher Keltner.  

Ironically, the good manners and emotional connection with others that helped someone rise to power – or win a partner in love – start to diminish when you achieve that power or relationship success. It's a type of acquired sociopathy, as Keltner puts it, akin to suffering a brain injury that impedes empathy for those around you – like your poor suffering anal-retentive husband.

Now I admit I get around barefoot in un-ironed shorts and ripped boardies; I burp in cars and fart in bed; I have even clipped my toenails in the loungeroom – BUT SHE HAS TOO!

Table manners are different.

When you marry an anal-retentive table manners person like me, you have to win me over by never talking while chewing. You have to play along with all the rules of eating. Indeed, my wife and I have spent half a lifetime inculcating our kids into righteous eating etiquette.

I know my wife has always been the boss of me but now the power seems to have shifted all her way – so much that she feels free to eat somewhat rudely. She knows she's going to live longer than me. She knows I'm an old fat bloke struggling as most of the kids leave home. There's less need for her to set a good example or tolerate my hectoring about not leaving the table until everyone is finished.

At dinner time it's often just me and this strange woman sitting at the end of the table with her elbows placed where they definitely should not be.

Manners or lack thereof have become, by neglect, a weapon of sorts between us. And I'm scared to tell her that divorce is possible – in case she throws a steak knife at me.

Such is life …

astokes@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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