Intimate relationships are built on respect, trust and boundaries. Respect, trust and boundaries entail rules. Yes, rules! If you want to truly love your partner, you have to follow the rules of love.
Rules are so important because every couple has conflict. You could have the healthiest relationship in the world, and there will still be conflict. Both healthy and unhealthy couples fight, the key distinctive between the two is how they fight. Healthy couples don’t lose sight of respect and boundaries in the midst of conflict. So, in order to fight in a manner that maintains respect, trust and boundaries, you have to follow rules.
Some people might turn their nose up at the idea of rules. They might say "Rules are for children, not adults." Or, "Rules are for people with bad relationship, not for people who are in love." Wrong!
Sorry, but you need more than love to make love last. A relationship absent of respect will ultimately devolve into unhealth. You need love plus a whole lot more.
True love is love + kindness.
True love is love + healthy communication.
True love is love + empathy.
True love is love + respect.
To be kind means you must not be unkind. To communicate means you cannot freeze your partner out. To empathize means you cannot be cold and indifferent to your partner’s feelings or perspective. To affirm the positive, you must also commit to avoiding the negative; what you avoid can be formulated as rules.
Rules tend to stick in our mind and hold a level of concrete reality, which is useful in correcting bad behavior and redirecting us towards healthy behavior. The list below are the rules that will help you show respect, build trust and honor boundaries with your partner:
No Shot Gunning: Shot gunning is when you throw several objections, complaints or grievances at your partner, all at once. This simply is too much to respond to and isn’t fair. Pick one thing to talk about. If you have several issues to bring up, be thoughtful and bring up one issue at a time.
No Cheap Shots: This is when you address a problem or give feedback to your partner, but it’s laced with critiques, personal attacks and button pushing. It’s not fair to mock and deride your partner while trying to address a serious issue. It knocks them back on their feet and doesn’t lead to a positive resolution. Bring up your concern without an attack. Simply idea, yet hard to do in the moment.
Don’t Change the Subject: When you bring up one issue, and then in the middle of the conversation, you change the subject because you don’t want to take responsibility, or you want to throw your partner off is really unfair. It doesn’t lead to a successful resolution of the issue. If honest, you do it to frustrate your partner, or you have very little self-control. Changing the subject is frustrating and dilutes the focus of the conversation, so do your best to stay on topic and if another related subject seems important to discuss, then communicate that! Share with your partner that you think the other subject impinges on the initial topic and explain how it relates. This helps your partner track with your train of thought, otherwise, you will leave them in the dust.
No Personal Attacks: If you are engaging in a conversation strictly for the purpose to inflict hurt on your partner because you feel hurt, the conversation won’t end well. Maintain respect. Act in the way you wish to be treated. If someone is hurt by you, you would want them to share why and how you hurt them. You would not want them simply skip over healthy communication and go straight to attacking.
“Whenever you are confronted with an opponent. Conquer him with love.” – Mahatma Gandhi
Don’t Bring Up Past Mistakes: If you bring up an issue, problem, example, or hurt that is from the past, that bears no relevance to the conversation, then don’t bring it up. You are likely bringing it up to throw that in your partner’s face. Doing so is unproductive, unnecessarily sours the conversation and baits your partner into “tit for tat” mudslinging repartee.
Avoid The Blame Game: Blaming your partner for your feelings is unfair. Or, blaming your partner for a shared problem. Take credit for your feelings. Take credit for your part in the problem. Taking personal responsibility and ownership for a shared issue and feeling opens the door for reflection and self-examination. It is much easier to respond with respect to respect. It is very difficult to respond with respect to disrespect. Lead by example and make it easier for your partner to follow suit. If you can’t do that, then the conversation is pointless.
No Interrupting: If you do not like being interrupted, then do not interrupt your partner. MIND BLOWN, right?! Listen to what your partner has to say, even if you disagree. When they are finished, then you can talk. This takes a measure of self-control, which many do not possess. Even if they are interrupting, stick to your communication ethics. Assertively share with them you do not appreciate being interrupted, but don’t allow their poor behavior to deteriorate your congruence (action aligned with values).
Have the Right Intentions: The "why" behind the conversation determines how the conversation goes. If you enter the conversation simply to win points, inflict as much damage as possible, prove that you are right, or prove that they are wrong, you are in the conversation for the wrong reasons. If you enter the conversation for mutual understanding, even if you don’t fully agree at the end of the conversation, respect will be maintained and that is a success in itself.
Don’t Be Uncharitable: If your partner misspoke, stated something the wrong way, but meant something else, or is unclear, give them the benefit of the doubt that they mean well. Listen to them charitably. Respond to them graciously. Maintain respect, even if you don’t feel respected. And for heavens’ sake, allow them to clarify what they were trying to say. Don’t fall into the trap of making your misunderstanding ironclad truth that can never be corrected.
These rules allow for intimacy, respect and trust to flourish. Really, at the core of this article is the principle of treat others the way you want to be treated. We give ourselves passes, but when someone else violates these rules, we are very hurt and indignant. I’m challenging you to be consistent. Act in the manner you want to be treated. It’s as simple as that.