Relationship Rules I Used To See As Black And White

December 13, 2019  |  
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relationship rules and boundaries

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I used to have some pretty black and white ideas about what a relationship should look like, how couples should treat each other, how everyone should conduct themselves, and what everybody could expect of one another. When I learned of couples who didn’t abide by my very rigid ideas, I secretly said to myself, “They’ll never make it” or “They’re not right for each other.” If that couple continued to be together, I felt certain they were miserable and just settling.


When I thought that way, I’d never dated anyone for more than a year. I had the luxury of holding onto those ideals because those ideals are easy enough to stick to for 365 days. Maybe for even a couple of years. But now, seven years deep into a relationship, I’ve broken just about every single one of my antiquated, militant rules. I’ve realized how blind and naïve I was when I thought I knew how relationships “should” work. I understand that, many of the couples I know who have broken my old rules and stayed together actually probably are quite happy. They didn’t stay together out of weakness but out of strength—they worked things out and found joy again in spite of some trespasses.


Life is very long, and so our time with a life partner is also very long—if we’re lucky. Holding ourselves up to impossible standards just isn’t sustainable. In fact, it’s probably a recipe for so much stress that it causes arguments. Even if you really love someone, there will be times in life when you aren’t the best version of yourself, so you can’t be the best partner. Life will test you, and you will waver. Expecting perfection just isn’t realistic. And on that note, here are relationship rules I used to see as black and white that I now see as grey.


Tell your partner everything

I used to think you should tell your partner everything—absolutely everything. Everything you’re proud of. Everything you’re ashamed of. All of your secrets. Every single thing that happened that day. Everything happening with your family. Everything you’re afraid of. I just wanted a relationship to be a big tell-all session.


Share, with his best interests in mind

I’ve since learned that the responsible thing to do is consider what’s in my partner’s best interest before sharing things. If, for example, my parents tell me they’re worried he won’t make money in his new business venture, I don’t need to tell him that. What good comes of that? Added pressure around his business and insecurity in his interactions with my parents? There will be things like that that you keep to yourself, not as a form of lying but as a form of protecting your partner.


Engage every single night

I once thought it was very sad when couples I knew would go home to each other, barely say hello, and go to their respective couches to watch something on their laptops. I believed that a healthy couple would be eager to chat for hours when getting home to one another. I believed that a couple who didn’t do that was headed to the end.


Sometimes, you’re just tired

Look, I love my partner very much, but sometimes I don’t want to talk to anyone after a long day—including him. Sometimes I just want to watch a dumb reality show, have a glass of wine, and tune out. Sometimes the last thing I want to do is rehash what happened that day. But our love is strong enough such that we can tell each other, “Hey, I need to turn my brain off for a while” and we both get it.


Resolve everything

I once thought that there should be no issues left unresolved in a relationship, and that every argument should be had until its completion. I believed that if I didn’t agree with my boyfriend on something, we would just have to hash things out until we came to some sort of agreement. I couldn’t imagine just somehow living peacefully knowing we had an unresolved issue.


Leave some things alone

I don’t know quite how to explain it but there are some issues you just leave alone. You don’t resolve them. You don’t agree on anything. You just decide to let that one be, and you continue to get along. That’s what happened when I, for example, discovered that my partner was pro-life. I wasn’t pregnant. I’m not pregnant. It wasn’t a fight worth having and we just…walked away from the discussion.


Raise your voice, and it’s over

I once could never imagine displaying any true anger towards my partner. I believed we’d always communicate calmly, like adults, without letting emotions get in the way or making us say things we don’t mean. I thought that if I ever yelled at a partner or he yelled at me, that that would mean the relationship was over.


Nobody is perfect

Look, yelling shouldn’t be a regular occurrence in a relationship—that’s not a good sign—but to think that you can spend a lifetime with somebody and never yell or say a mean word is to be delusional. Sometimes, our emotions will get the best of us. Sometimes, our anger will be so strong that we forget we love the person and we’ll say something hurtful. Hopefully, it rarely happens. But I now know that it will happen, at some point, and it doesn’t have to mean the end of the relationship.


Any apparent desire to stray is cheating

My views on fidelity (or more specifically infidelity) used to be quite strict. I thought that if a partner of mine ever so much as displayed potential interest in even considering another woman, that was cheating. I thought the trust would be broken and there’d be no going back. If I could read a man’s mind, and found he even thought of another woman, I probably would have thought that was cheating, too.


Life is long to be obsessed with one person

I’m more realistic now. I do know, in my heart of hearts, my partner and I are a great match and there’s nobody better for me. I believe he thinks the same thing. But I also know that life is very long, and that there are several people with whom any of us could be happy. There will be times when, unbeknownst to ourselves, we are a bit too friendly with another person, not even having intentions to cheat. But, our subconscious belies the fact that that’s a person with whom, in a parallel universe, we could have dated. It’s okay. It doesn’t make us bad people.


Finances should be separate

Some couples do keep their finances separate and if it works for them, more power to them. I certainly once thought that I’d make my money, my man would make his, and we wouldn’t share it, per say. We’d be 50/50 on everything, each of us contributing the same amount to household expenses, no matter how much each person made.


Eventually, you’re just family

The thing is that, eventually, you and your partner are family, and what’s good for one of you is good for both of you. Likewise what’s bad for one of you is bad for both of you. If there is a time when you make far more than your partner, and paying for more of the rent or more of the groceries is barely a detectable change for you, while paying for half of it would make your partner broke, of course you just pay for more of it. You’re not just going to watch your partner struggle when it’s so easy for you to help.


You must befriend each other’s friends

“If my partner is the perfect person for me then he’ll love all of my friends and they’ll love him because each party, respectively, loves me.” That’s what I used to think. I used to believe that if my partner and my friend couldn’t get along, then that must not be the right partner for me. Or that I should force them to get along.


That’s idealistic

Sometimes, you’ll have a friend whom your partner doesn’t like. Sometimes, you’ll have a friend who doesn’t really like your partner. They may not say it, outright, but you pick up on what’s going on. But you don’t control it. You don’t make more of it than it is. It’s not like you need all three of you in the same room more than, let’s say, twice a year.


Just ask: is the love still there?

I’ve broken many of my old rules so many times in this long-term relationship. And, it didn’t break us, the way I thought it would. It didn’t even lessen the love that is there. A strong relationship can survive some mishaps. If the love is still there, that’s really all that matters. Forget about how it looks on paper.

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