Marriage Help: What are Your Relationship’s Unspoken Rules?

We live in a world of rules:  School, sporting events, work, religious services…even your book club probably has its own rules. We’re inundated with rules: Don’t punch your little sister, eat with a fork, don’t interrupt, you get an hour for lunch…

Relationships (including your marriage or relationship) are no different. Your marriage/relationship is guided by a series of rules that you’ve learned from the important people throughout your life.  In addition to these relationship rules, you and your spouse/partner will develop a set of rules that are unique to your relationship.

All couples create their own rules (a set of guidelines on how to proceed on particular issues), many of them discussed and negotiated:

  • Who pays the bills
  • How the household chores are distributed
  • Will one of you stay home to raise the children
  • Is daycare an option
  • Who your friends are
  • Will you attend religious services…

However, not all relationship rules are clear and articulated.

Relationship Help: Understanding the Power of Non-Negotiated, Unspoken Rules

Couples often create guidelines and rules that have a powerful influence over the relationship—yet  some of the most influential rules remain unarticulated.

The complexity of your marriage or relationship stems partly from the unique histories you and your spouse/partner bring to the relationship table. You and your partner grew up in families that had their own unique rules, rhythms and moral codes (some spoken, some unspoken) and these guided your family and acted  as a powerful navigational system that shaped you, influencing how you behaved and reacted.

Unspoken rules define and shape what is considered acceptable and unacceptable, what is good and bad.

The unspoken rules that shaped you growing up are the same rules that can influence how you relate to your spouse/partner: How you handle intimacy, deal with emotions, and react to conflict and misunderstandings. If there is a high degree of overlap between your and your spouse’s/partner’s unspoken rules, the chances increase that your relationship will run smoothly.

Dissimilar rules often lead to conflict and power struggles, as you both unconsciously try to get the other to adhere to the rules that have been handed down to each of you from your respective families.

The goal is to identify and make fully conscious any unspoken rules that may be negatively shaping your relationship.

Relationship Help Action Step

Do you believe there are any unspoken relationship rules at work in your own marriage/relationship? Rules that are having a negative impact on the relationship?

If so, describe these rules in as much detail as possible and highlight what works and doesn’t about a particular relationship rule.

One way to uncover the unspoken rules of your marriage/relationship is to look for any patterns and routines that seem to have occurred naturally without any discussion (for instance,  you wash the dishes every evening, your partner pays the bills and takes care of all the finances).  While these arrangements might work fine for you and your mate, it’s important to examine the arrangements (even if they’ve existed for years) that may be causing one of you to feel resentful or unhappy.

Until next time,

Dr. Rich Nicastro

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