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Relationships can be a complicated territory to navigate, each individual coming into it with their own perspective, history, and values. Dealing with issues that arise with differing emotional styles can be a cause for conflict and disconnection. However, setting up relationship rules can create a clearly defined framework to lay the course for a positive relationship.
The purpose of such relationship rules is not to be restrictive or confine each other, but rather to draw mutually agreed boundaries and touch points, like a map for your relationship exchanges to follow. Knowing what you can and should expect to give and receive in your relationship – and sharing a deep understanding of each other’s personal needs – creates a sense of security for both partners.
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We outline the principles for you in:
“To be fully seen by somebody, and be loved anyhow – this is a human offering that can border on miraculous,” Elizabeth Gilbert
There are some basic relationship rules, which apply not only to intimate partners but also across the spectrum of personal relationships. These are the fundamentals of healthy relationships, the building blocks of a thriving connection. You can employ the below principles as the basic relationship rules to live by, an overarching guideline for matters of the heart.
- Unconditional acceptance: perhaps the toughest but most profoundly impactful principle. You can’t love someone for who you want them to be, but rather need to accept them for who they are here and now. This does not mean you accept inappropriate behaviour, but realize that no one is perfect. You embrace your partner, warts and all.
- Respect: respect is both admiring and considering the needs and wishes of others. Loving from a place of respect triumphs many a challenge and checks many a negative reaction.
- Honesty and trust: the bedrock of a relationship is trust, and the stones and mortar of that foundation are honesty. There’s nothing too terrible or difficult to say which can be improved by dishonesty – honesty is always the best policy.
- Communication: everyone knows that communication is key, however, being so widely accepted, it is easily taken for granted. Communications is the very means by which you send and receive all the signals and information in your relationship – keep the lines open and the messages regular.
- Compromise: it can be argued that the shortest distance between two people is compromise. Meeting in the middle ground and both being willing to go halfway will give you the extra miles to go the distance in your relationship.
- Consistency: just showing up, day in and day out, being a place of certainty for your partner carves out secure footing for both of you to stand on. Knowing what to expect from your partner allows each individual to lower their guard, be vulnerable, and give their whole heart.
“It’s just the two of us. We can make it if we try…” Bill Withers
When it comes to the secrets of a healthy relationship, shaping and moulding your relationship patterns to fit your desired future after is the starting point. Safeguard your relationship and the sacred space between you and your partner by implementing these relationship rules as the golden standard.
- Be teammates: work as a team and support each other. In a team sport, if one of the players drops the ball you don’t blame them, rather you move forward together focusing on the goal. Do the same with your partner.
- Listen: in a relationship, listening can be more important than speaking. Try active listening, repeating back what you have heard, to ensure a fuller understanding. Listen without defence, listen without rationale – hear what your partner is really saying beneath the noise of words. To be heard and acknowledged opens the space for true communication and connection.
- Don’t compare: Mark Twain wisely said that comparison is the death of joy. There will always be someone who is in a better position and someone who is in a worse position than you. Evaluating your relationship against the imagined measuring stakes of someone else’s perceived successes and happiness will only be to your detriment. Create your own markers to aim for.
- Affection and compliments: love multiplies love. Be generous with your affection and try giving each other compliments every single day. Affection and compliments are like watering a flower – water your love and watch it blossom. Regularly remind yourself and your partner about the small and personal details you love about each other.
- Know each other’s love language: people give and receive love differently – understanding your partner’s unique love language can open up another level of truly getting each other. You may be buying them flowers, because you like to receive gifts, when all your partner really wants are words of affirmation. Learning how you both relate to it facilitates deep and true acts of love.
- Grow together: if you’re not going forward, you’re going backward. And if you ‘re treading water in your relationship, chances are it’s stagnating. Taking on challenges together, creating opportunities to learn together and doing new activities together keeps you stimulated and the relationship dynamic. Moving actively forward also makes it easier to leave the past in the past, where it belongs.
“All is fair in love and in war”, John Lyly
The reality in all relationships is that you will fight at some point. But you can learn to fight better. Fight for resolution, instead of destruction. There will be conflict along the journey so find ways to manage it for your benefit; take the disagreement and use it to generate greater understanding by laying out these relationship rules for fighting fairly.
- Learn to say sorry sincerely and forgive easily: if you are battling to say sorry or forgive, turn up the empathy – regularly practice putting yourself in your partner’s shoes and imagining what they are feeling and experiencing.
- Being right is not the most important thing: going hand and hand with taking responsibilities for your own actions and saying sorry, is realizing that to love is more important than it is to be right all the time. If the issue is not a factor that is going to end your relationship, learn to let go of the little things, and don’t let your ego get in the way of your mutual happiness.
- No name calling: when a fight descends into name calling it’s time to take a step back. Leading relationship authority John Gottman calls criticism, defensiveness, contempt and stonewalling the four horsemen of the apocalypse – the most destructive and highest predictors for divorce. If you stray into this territory, reset the atmosphere by calling a short timeout. Even five minutes of cardio or deep breathing, can reset your neurological state and equip you to continue in a more positive frame of mind.
- Avoid generalizations: using generalization such as, ‘You always do that…” disempowers your present conversation as it does not focus on the matters at hand. In addition, it adds your past baggage into the mix of the conversation and immediately raises your partner’s defences. This shuts down the lines of communication, so avoid destructive generalizations as a matter of course.
- Use ‘I’ statements: instead of framing your communication as an accusation, step up and be accountable for your own feelings. When a person feels blamed, they tend to move straight into a defence mode – which makes it difficult to hear each other. Rather start sentences with ‘I’. For example “I feel worried when you are late. I think something might have happened to you”, as opposed to “You are always late and it’s so thoughtless of you”.
- Fighting does not mean failure: conflict is a natural part of any relationship. No one is perfect and there will be issues you do not see eye-to-eye on. Make it your relationship rule to fight cleanly, learn to speak instead of shout and don’t see fighting as a failure. Reframe disagreement as an opportunity to learn more about your partner and grow your relationship.
How to set relationship rules:
To set up your relationship rules you need to have clearly defined boundaries in your relationship. A boundary is both a clear space between where you begin and the other person ends, and it is a line which is not acceptable to cross. Keeping these boundaries defined ensures you both know each other’s values and needs, and it maintains your independence, acting as a safeguard against slipping into a co-dependent relationship.
To establish the boundaries start by examining your own emotional landscape. Actively practice self-awareness and get to know your own needs and feelings. You need to know your own boundaries in order to set them with a partner. Take responsibility for yourself, managing your own emotions and responses, rather than reacting recklessly to any provocation. If you take responsibility for you, instead of pointing fingers, you give your partner the opportunity to take responsibility for themselves; this way, your partner won’t become defensive.
Stand firm in your values and follow through with what you say – to be respected, you need to respect yourself first. It is also helpful to identify your own fears and so you don’t project them onto your partner, and be sure to consciously define your relationship needs.
In so doing, you can use your relational and personal boundaries to set up your own relationship rules which are mutually acceptable and rewarding. Using this basic set of relationship rules can liberate your relationship and become the building blocks for your forever after.
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