10 Relationship Rules to a Healthier Marriage

As a divorce mediator and relationship coach, I know that there will always be grounds for divorce; but I suggest that if you work instead on ground rules for marriage, then you won’t have to worry about the fatal halls of divorce court.

We’ve all heard rules about marriage from friends and family, and perhaps especially from our parents….”Don’t go to bed angry”, “Pick your battles”, etc. It is important to set up some ground rules in your relationship or marriage so that unnecessary conflicts can be avoided and your time can be spent more constructively, rather than spent trying to iron out petty differences. The rule “pick your battles” is always a good one to start with, but some other ground rules, when applied, can help build a more solid platform for daily living. Here are a few ideas, some big and some small:

1. Don't air your dirty laundry. The public display of your arguments and disagreements is never a good idea. Not only does it make you and your partner look as if you aren’t, capable of handling your own issues, it makes everyone around you feel very uncomfortable and forces your friends and family to try to mediate or take sides. Your differences should be private, but if you need to talk to someone, find a qualified coach or therapist. Remember, when your argument is over, and all is forgiven, your family and friends will still remember the emotions and conflict that you were willing to forget.

2. Know how to make your partner happy. While setting the table one evening, I heard my sister say, “Don’t forget Barry’s Smart Balance. You know how he likes it.” Knowing that my sister prefers butter, I thought it was a nice gesture on her part to not try to force her fiancée to like the same as she but rather get him what he likes instead.

3. Be respectful. This is pretty general because respect means many things to many people. To some it means speaking in a kind and gentle tone and not being sarcastic. To others, it may mean putting them first. In my daughter’s case, she and her boyfriend have learned to respect each others' limits by not pushing each other's buttons – such as competing too aggressively with each other during a game, or needing to “win” an argument. Always bear in mind that the partner you chose should be someone you can and will respect.

4. Never use “swear words” during a disagreement. Even if you're not calling each other names, the use of swearing can elevate the tension and hostility in an argument, often causing the other person to respond in kind. It is an automatic emotion-raiser. Instead, practice using terms of endearment when you disagree. If you like those names in good times, then they just might help during the rough spots.

5. If you sleep in the same bed when you are happy, stay there when you are not! Many people tell me that after they argue they go to separate rooms or beds for the night. Although difficult to always control, try as much as you can to not argue at night. You can bring the issue up the next day when things look brighter and you are both more rested.

6. Keep your eyes to yourself. No one likes to see their partner's eyes wandering around the room, checking out whoever's walking by. Although motion in our field of view does cause us to look, looking at another woman or man will only serve to make your partner feel insecure…and disrespected (See #3 above.).

7. Ask your partner if they want something too when you get up to get something for yourself. It’s not only good manners but it makes a statement that they are loved and cared for.

8. Unplug. When your partner is talking to you, give them the courtesy of your undivided attention. Don't use this as a time to check e-mail, watch TV or read the paper. Become mindful of your partner's need for your time and attention.

9. Do things your partner wants to do. Yes, I know a day at the museum or the auto show might not be your thing, but if you agree to accommodate each other’s likes, you'll get to spend some precious free time together instead of separately. You might even learn something new!

10. Don’t take arguments too seriously or spend too much time on them. This way, it won’t eat up so much of your brain space and cause so much stress! Life goes on. Years from now, you won't remember what you argued about. If it is a big issue, handle it correctly the first time and it will never come up again. Don't retreat and avoid discussing what's bothering your partner, no matter how uncomfortable it makes you feel. You’ll be happy to put it to rest rather than worry about it rearing its ugly head again. If you do not have good conflict resolution skills, then go learn some from a qualified mediator or relationship coach. If you didn’t have the right ingredient for a recipe, wouldn’t you go to the store to get it? Well then, shouldn’t your relationship be at least as important? Also, go get a copy of the book, “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff.” And as the book says, it's all small stuff.

~Wendy Pegan, Relationship Builder

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