10 Relationship Rules of Engagement to help your relationship to survive a disagreement
Why Do We Need Rules?
The military, the police, professional boxers, and martial artists, all must adhere to rules of engagement in their respective zones of conflict. These rules define what the acceptable use of force is.
If the military used nuclear weapons every time they wanted to achieve success, ultimately no one would survive. Similarly, you can’t “go nuclear” on your partner during a fight if you want the relationship to survive.
Rules of engagement are important in your relationship to create a sense of safety. When you know that no matter how heated your argument gets, your partner will not throw the meanest words or nearest object at you, you can engage with trust.
What Are the Rules?
In my book, Fix Your Partner in 10 Easy Steps or Less, I explain why we fight, how it happens and what to do about it. Right here and now my objective is to give you a specific set of rules that you and your partner can agree on, as a goal for your relationship.
It is true that how you and your partner treat and respond to each other will dictate much of how it feels to be in the relationship. It is equally true that how you treat and respond to each other during an argument will have a lot to do with your relationship’s long term success.
The following rules will help create the trust that is the foundation of a safe environment in which to disagree. They are written as promises you can make to each other.
The 10 Relationship Rules of Engagement
1. I will not raise my voice
2. I will not interrupt or talk over you
3. I will not criticize or call you a mean name
4. I will not issue an ultimatum in the heat of a fight
5. I will not blame you for my own behavior or reactions
6. I will not walk away before agreeing on when I will talk again
7. I will not threaten to leave, separate or divorce when I am upset
8. I will take ownership for the hurt I contribute to and apologize
9. I will work to avoid being defensive or justify my actions
10. I agree to keep the discussion focused on the topic issue
Resentment is a highly toxic poison that will kill your relationship if you don’t find a way to release it. When you feel unfairly treated, you’ll become angry. When anger is mixed with a sense of betrayal, you’ll feel resentment.
How Resentment Builds
It’s easy to understand how resentment can occur in a relationship after an event like infidelity. Resentment can also grow over time when your partner is unresponsive to you. Being rejected over and over, ignored over and over, or criticized over and over – these actions break the trust you thought you had. They key trust in any relationship is: you won’t hurt me on purpose. You’ll have my back.
If you’re feeling resentful, you’re also hurt, angry and don’t trust your partner. Your brain will start working to solve the problem because it doesn’t want you to be alone. Unfortunately, no choice seems to lead to happiness. A part of you may want to leave the relationship because I don’t deserve to be treated this way and I can do better. Another part probably wants to kick them out so they will feel the hurt too. There’s likely a part of you probably doesn’t want to leave because of the commitment you made. Still, yet another part of you doesn’t want to act in a way that is retaliatory because that’s not who you are. You’re hurt and you’re stuck!
The Best Way to Release Resentment
The best way through resentment is to be able to express your hurt and upset-ness with your partner. This means they must be able to listen, be empathetic, own their part, feel bad for that part and hurt they contributed to (or caused) and make a commitment to change that will put the rules of love and security back in place. If they can do this, you’ll start to believe they care about how you feel. When you feel understood, when they can own their part, you can start to believe they won’t hurt you again.
This is a tricky part because if when you express your true thoughts and feelings they become defensive, dismissive, blaming or move into their own guilt and shame, you won’t leave the conversation feeling understood and therefore better. The ability to put one’s own feelings aside to be compassionate with the other and take ownership for one’s contribution are key attributes of a strong relationship. You’ll think, if they don’t understand, they might hurt me again. You won’t be able to let the resentment go.
If Your Partner Won’t Understand, What Can You Do?
If you must deal with it alone because your partner can’t or won’t be compassionate, one way to work on resentment is by setting boundaries. You may need to make changes to the rules of your relationship or even make structural changes to your routine. You’ll need to figure out what you need to feel better and then go to your partner and let them know what you need to be okay again. Perhaps you need to take over all the finances, or perhaps you need a night out for “me” time. Whatever it is, what do you need to put trust and fairness back in place? Then with follow through comes trust, one bite at a time.
You Can Choose
Another way to work through resentment on your own is through brute force. Choose to take your power back by choosing to own your choice. When you accept a situation because you choose to in some way, you can feel better about the situation because you’re not powerless.
Make a decision by finishing the sentence, “I choose to _______________. “ “I choose to stay in this relationship because I love my partner and want to make it work.” Now you are making an empowered choice. Own that choice and don’t blame your partner for your own choices.
Resentment has the toxic potential to unwind your relationship because it blocks partners from moving toward each other to repair deep hurts. Many couples who come into counseling find they waited too long. Don’t let this be you! If you or your partner is resentful and can’t work through it together or alone, find a good counselor to help.
Working through this can be hard, and it is critical to your relationship’s long-term health, happiness and security.
Marlon Familton, MA LMHC is a relationship counselor working to help couples navigate the choppy waters of love and romance.
Author of the book, “Fix Your Partner in 10 Easy Steps or Less!”
Contact Marlon at Bellevue Family Counseling in Bellevue, Washington.Learn More
Are you experiencing a hurt that won’t stop? Do you believe you don’t have a voice in your relationship? Do you feel it’s always your fault? One reason might be that you haven’t set healthy boundaries for yourself and your partner.
What Are Healthy Boundaries?
Boundaries are what you are happy to allow for yourself or around you – or not. Ideally, these begin as requests.
Would you please drive slower with me in the car?”
“Please don’t raise your voice.”
When the other person complies with your request, the problem is solved. However, what if the request isn’t met with compliance or collaboration? It might be time to set a boundary.
How Do You Set Healthy Boundaries in Relationships?
When you set a healthy boundary, it should come across as neither a threat nor an ultimatum. A threat or ultimatum is a challenge – a challenge for control – that will usually fail because there is a low probability of follow through, and everyone knows it. These are threats or ultimatums:
If you keep driving so fast, I’m never going with you in the car again.”
“If you don’t stop yelling at me, I’m never going to talk to you.”
A boundary is a request for change or compliance and a statement about how you will care for yourself if the other person doesn’t respect or comply with your request.
If you want to drive this fast, I’m going to drive myself next time.”
“If you want to continue raising your voice, I’m going to go for a walk.”
In both cases, you haven’t demanded or threatened, you’ve emphasized the other is free! You have also reminded them, that you too have freedom and are willing to exercise it.
When Boundary Setting Doesn’t Work
When the other person doesn’t respect your request or boundary you must follow through with taking care of yourself. If you don’t, your efforts to set boundaries will fail and nothing will change. If you ask them to drive slower and they don’t (the request). Then, state that if they prefer to drive in a manner that leaves you feeling uncomfortable, that you’re going to stay home or drive yourself next time (the boundary). If they continue to drive in an uncomfortable manner, next time you have to drive yourself or stay home.
If you ask them to lower their voice, and they don’t. Next, you let them know you won’t continue talking if they prefer to raise their voice. If neither works, you’ll have to step out and stop engaging. You want them to think, Oh, I better not raise my voice of they won’t stay and talk. You want them to manage their own behavior in a respectful way. This is very different than you demanding they stop yelling.
You want others to respect you and respect your word. To get this, they must know you’ll follow through. The follow through is what teaches others to be respectful and value your words.
This does mean that you will lose something too. You won’t be sharing the ride, or perhaps home or it means not engaging in the conversation. However, in doing so you’re also making a choice not to be impacted by the other’s behavior – taking care of yourself. This teaches others that if they want your presences and participation, they have got to be respectful of what you want and need.
Boundaries as a Form of Self-Care
Boundaries do require some self-love. You must care about yourself enough to act. If it is hard to stand up for yourself or express your needs and wants, this is related to your self-concept – which is a different topic and very valuable work to do, something we often do in therapy.
For now, think about where you’re not setting firm boundaries and how that contributes to distance in your relationship. Being close requires boundaries. Boundaries keep the relationship safe!
Marlon Familton, MA LMHC is a relationship counselor working to help couples navigate the choppy waters of love and romance. Author of the book, “Fix Your Partner in 10 Easy Steps or Less!”
Contact Marlon at Bellevue Family Counseling in Bellevue, Washington.Learn More