Everyone lives by a set of rules that is rarely spoken but always known. Needless to say, unspoken rules become more vocal when our spouse “breaks” them. This became painfully obvious to us when we visited our families for the first time as a married couple.
One Christmas, we flew from Los Angeles to Chicago to be with our families for the holidays. The first night was at my (Leslie’s) house. As was my family’s custom, I woke up early in the morning to squeeze in every possible minute with my family. Les, on the other hand, slept in. I interpreted Les’s sleeping as avoidance and rejection and felt he did not value time with my family. “It’s embarrassing to me,” I told Les. “Everyone is up and eating in the kitchen. Don’t you want to be with us?”
Les, on the other hand, didn’t understand my intensity. “What did I do? I’m just catching up from jet lag. I’ll come down after my shower,” he said. As I found out later, Les expected a slower, easier pace during the holidays, because that’s the way it was at his house.
In this incident, Les had broken a rule he didn’t know existed, and I discovered a rule I had never put into words.
Both of us felt misunderstood and frustrated. We both had our own ideas about what was acceptable, and it never occurred to either of us that our expectations would be so different. Each of us became irritated by the other’s unspoken expectations and frustrated that the other did not live by the same rules.
Since that first Christmas we have learned to discuss our secret expectations and make our silent rules known. We have also helped the couples we counsel to become more aware of their own unspoken rules, to keep little problems from becoming big ones. Here is a sampling of the rules we have heard from other couples:
• Don’t interrupt another’s work.
• Don’t ask for help unless you are desperate.
• Downplay your successes.
• Don’t talk about money in public.
• Never call attention to yourself.
• Don’t volunteer to help.
• Don’t work too long or too hard.
• Don’t get sick.
• Never raise your voice.
• Don’t talk about your body.
• Don’t show up late.
• Clean the kitchen before you go to bed.
• Don’t talk about your feelings.
• Don’t drive fast.
• Never buy dessert at a restaurant.
• Don’t be too serious abut anything.
• Don’t buy expensive gifts.
Are you walking through a marital minefield of unspoken rules? The exercise Your Personal Ten Commandments can help you heighten your awareness of your unspoken rules and thus avoid needless explosions. It will help you recognize that you are free to accept, reject, challenge, and change the rules for the sake of your relationship.
Exercise: Your Personal Ten Commandments. This exercise is designed to help you uncover some of your “unspoken rules.” It will take about 15 to 20 minutes. Try to articulate some of the “unspoken rules” you grew up with. Take your time to think it over.
These rules are generally so ingrained that we are rarely aware of them. Once both of you have articulated your “personal 10 commandments,” share them with each other. Are there rules you would like to change? Take a moment to discuss how unspoken rules might affect your marriage.
Anytime you have a fight or disagreement, ask yourself: “Is this fight a result of one of us breaking an unspoken rule?” If so, add that rule to your list, and discuss with your spouse how you will handle that situation in the future.
The above article is excerpted from the book, Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts by Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott, published by Zondervan Publishing. This book will help you learn the skills you’ll need for a lasting and happy life together-before unhappiness sets in. They’ve also written two workbooks as companions to this book, one for the man and one for the woman. “The twenty-one self-tests in the workbooks will help you and your partner put into action what is taught in this book. If you would like to bring this program to your church or small group setting, a video curriculum is available, also titled, Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts.
— ALSO —
To give you an example of 10 Commandments you can come up with, below are Commandments (actually 14 Commitments and “I Will” Statements) that some friends of ours have shared with us:
1. Don’t use the “divorce” word, especially as leverage.
2. Do publicly affirm one another.
3. Do allow each other to have a voice in our friendships or with other people (prayerfully consider what the other person is saying).
4. Don’t go to bed angry (Pray for each other in conflict and agree to discuss at another time).
5. Do commit to demonstrating love in the other persons love language.
6. Do have concern about spouses love tank being filled.
7. Don’t be emotionally vulnerable with members of the opposite sex.
8. Do commit to pray for each other specific things.
9. Do trust the other person’s heart when in doubt.
10. Do go to marital counseling if there’s ever an issue we can’t resolve.
11. Don’t get too busy to go on dates.
12. Do go on intentional dates, flirt, and grow in our relationship (stay datable).
13. Don’t dishonor one another in front of family.
14. Do commit to taking care of our bodies, giving permission to each other to hold accountable with bad habits.
And then here are:
I WILL STATEMENTS:
♥ I will cherish my marriage: God first, marriage second, children last.
♥ I will take personal responsibility for my life in the word, and being open to accountability from the other.
♥ I will commit to keeping my mind pure.
♥ I will commit to being fiscally responsible and planning for our future financially.
♥ I commit to thinking long term rather than short term.
♥ I commit to hold no record of wrongs.
♥ I commit to personal hygiene.
♥ I commit to not lose hope.
♥ I commit to help around the house to the best of my abilities.
♥ I commit to wanting to be married to you.
♥ I commit to being sensitive to your sexual needs.
♥ I commit to being sensitive to your emotional needs.
♥ I commit to not being selfish.