Marriage Rules

Credit: Andrew Choi Photography. Thankful that our joy of being married was totally captured in this picture.
Credit: Andrew Choi Photography. Thankful that our joy of being married was totally captured in this picture.

We celebrated our wedding anniversary last week and I took some time to reflect on the fascinating journey that we have been on since we said, "I do."


Truthfully, marriage was harder than I had imagined. Yet I agree with all the wise people who exhort that everything worth doing is difficult and requires effort. I am grateful to many authors out there who have helped to illuminate and guide when I was feeling lost.


One of those great books is Marriage Rules: A Manual for the Married and the Coupled Up by Dr. Harriet Lerner


Dr. Lerner's basic assumption is that people know what they need to do in order to have a good marriage. We are experts of our own relationships. However, we do need reminders and most importantly the motivation to follow the rules, which may seem simple but difficult to execute. I totally buy into this assumption and I find it highly empowering.


There are 106 rules in the manual organized into ten chapters addressing different domains. The format is genius really as it is very easy to follow and the rules are practical and sensible. Witty, poignant and pithy, the book makes for an engaging and insightful read.


In today's post, I would like to share three rules that resonate deeply with me and in actuality I have practiced them for a while. Therefore, I can testify to their effectiveness.


1. Rule #1: Respect differences

I learned this rule through a lot of tears and heartache. Indeed, marriage requires a profound respect for differences because each partner comes from a different background and views the world through different lens. Most importantly, we need to recognize that differences don't mean that one person is right and the other is wrong. We can both be right because that's our realities. What we need is to respect the differences. 


2. Rule #10: Be the one to change first

The truth of the matter is I can change no one. The only person I can change is myself. When I give up the need to control and change my husband, our relationship improves tremendously. I start to pay attention to my own behaviours and take actions to change instead of waiting or coercing my husband to do so. Why would he change if he doesn't see the need in it? 


3. Rule #20: Cut back on advice

Ah! This is a tough one. I pride myself as one who is sharp and observant. Because of my background, it comes naturally to me to dish out advice when I notice something is amiss. It becomes highly frustrating when my husband ignores them. It took me a while but I learned that when he doesn't follow my advice, clearly I should not be giving it.


Advice giving becomes problematic when it feeds my need to be superior and right. In a healthy relationship, it is equally important to give each other space to make mistakes and develop competence through trial and error. I have made it my resolution to only give advice when I am asked specifically be it by my husband or anyone else.


I have also challenged myself to obey three other rules that I am still struggling with. These are:


1. Rule #16: Strike when the iron is cold

Ever felt that your emotions get the better of you when you lashed out mercilessly? Indeed, the worst time to speak is when we are feeling intense or angry. It is much more productive to address difficult topics when both are relaxed and calm.  


2. Rule #27: Lower your defensiveness

Defensiveness has been my strong ally for as long as I can remember. Its close cousin, self-righteousness has been a frequent visitor too. Even though it is normal and universal to feel defensive, it blocks real listening. The book offers a 12-step program to do this and I aim to do the first three steps namely name it, breathe and don't interrupt.


3. Rule #63: Never take monogamy on faith

This rule is not something that I have considered before and thanks to the book, it is now. The fact is that affairs happen in the best of marriages. It hits home that I need to be mindful and continue to work at building our intimacy and communication consistently. The paradox is when we think that our marriage is affair-proof, we are more likely to let down our guard, lower the motivation to improve things and shut down conversation; perfect recipe for emotional distance and disengagement who are culprits for ailing marriage.


I hope you find something relevant and useful from this post. Check out the book and tell me which rule resonates with you. If you like this post, do consider sharing it with your friends. Thank you for reading.


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