Having ground rules as a couple can help protect and save your marriage.
Because it can protect your relationship, your communication, and your overall marriage from negatives that can easily creep up and destroy your marriage.
Ground rules are rules that both you and your spouse agree to about how you will interact about problems, issues, and things in everyday life.
Having ground rules can help both parties feel more comfortable dealing with and discussing issues as they know there is a set framework they are working under.
Here’s one caveat.
You have to abide by the rules. There is no “I’m going to break it this one time because…”
For them to be effective and to protect your marriage, you both need to follow them 100%, all of the time. Which also means you both need to agree and be happy about the rules. You making up a rule for your spouse to follow isn’t going to work.
So what ground rules should you have? That partly depends on you, your spouse, and your marriage. What one couple may need, another may not.
We have listed here some possibilities that you can follow, but choose and use at your discretion, and look at your own marriage, sit down with your spouse, and discuss calmly where issues may lay and rules you might establish to help protect your marriage.
Note: some of the suggestions may not sound like a “rule”, but when you read the explanation, you will understand.
Never threaten the relationship
Never threaten the relationship or use the “D” word (divorce) flippantly or in an argument. Don’t joke about leaving or, even as a nonserious threat, about separating or divorcing.
Just don’t go there.
Because your loyalty and commitment are vital in marriage. Knowing that your spouse is committed brings security to the marriage. It allows and opens the doors to more heartfelt communication. It lets each other know that, no how difficult the problem, you will overcome this together.
When you threaten the relationship, it hurts that security.
If your spouse is uncertain that you are committed for the long-term, how likely do you think he or she will be willing to open up to you? How likely do you think he or she will bring up issues that need to be addressed if he or she feels it might make you leave?
Just don’t do it. Hold the commitment to each other sacred.
Decide on how issues and problems will be dealt with
Dealing with issues at the wrong time and way can cause great harm to your marriage. You need to decide together how issues will be dealt with and when.
One suggestion is to always ask “is this a good time?” If it’s not, then the one who says “it’s not” makes sure it’s brought up again in the next 24-48 hours, however you decide.
There may be times you both know that are not good times – such as right before bed or right when one of you gets home from work.
Generally when you are tired, stressed, or distracted is not a good time.
You can also have a set weekly couple’s meeting that you both know you will have where you can discuss issues.
Also, it’s a good idea to make it a rule not to bring up issues during dates, when you are spending time as friends, having fun together, or during times of romance or sensuality. There’s no better way to destroy those times then to bring up a divisive issue.
Have a weekly Couples Meeting
Speaking of a weekly couple’s meeting, it’s a good idea to have one, whether things are going good or bad. Have a set time each week where you meet no matter what to discuss issues in your marriage and logistics.
You can also use it as a time to praise and show appreciation to one another.
Use and respect the use of timeouts to stop escalating arguments
Using timeouts and rescue attempts can not only help you stop arguments from escalating but help keep you from ruining fun and other times with an argument.
First, what do I mean by escalating? Arguments escalate when we start taking it up a level each time. You say something in anger, the other responds negatively, then the other… you get the idea.
Issues aren’t solved when we escalate but when we can talk calmly to one another. Escalated arguments only cause harm.
When you see yourself or each other getting angry or see the discussion escalating, call a timeout or pause. Say you need a break or suggest a break for at least 20 minutes for everyone to calm down and come back to it.
Sometimes there may be a word that you both choose to say when you see yourselves escalating, such as “pancakes”. Sometimes words like these can make you laugh and let you calm down and start over.
Timeouts can also save friendship and other times when arguments would destroy it. If you are on a date and a topic comes up that may cause an argument, call a timeout and agree that both of you will discuss it later. Then go back to the fun you are having!
Never argue in front of the kids (or others)
Make it a rule that you don’t argue in front of the kids. They don’t need to see you fighting and fussing at one another.
In fact, according to a study from Notre Dame (mentioned the book Fight For Your Marriage), they found “strong links between parents’ conflict and adjustment problems for children. Kids become more sad, angry, and feaful when regularly exposed to destructively handled conflict.”
Make sure that if they do see you disagreeing, that they see you coming back together. If you had an outburst in front of the kids, apologizing to each other and them in front of them can also be helpful. If you start to have an argument around them, call a timeout.
Never attack or get back at each other
You should always think of yourselves as a team working together to solve or understand your problems, not as “you vs. me”.
When you attack each other, you are in no way resolving whatever the issue is but hurting the other person. And that also hurts you in the long run and your marriage.
Also, when you “get back at one another”, you create a deadly cycle. Even if the other came across as negative, don’t fall into that trap. Still react in a positive manner and break that deadly cycle.
Listen before responding
This is a good rule for life and conversations in general. Before responding to what your spouse is saying or arguing your viewpoint, make sure to listen first.
Don’t just “hear” them, listen! Before you respond, make it your goal to understand exactly what your spouse’s viewpoint is.
One of the best ways to do this is through paraphrasing. Repeat back to your spouse what your he or she just said to make sure that you understood and so that they know that you understand their viewpoint.
Use the talking stick method (or something similar) to discuss issues
The talking stick method, the Speaker Listener technique (from Fight For Your Marriage), and similar methods all accomplish the same thing: they give you a framework that you use when discussing issues and problems in your marriage.
Basically, with the mentioned methods, you have an object or spot that represents the speaker. Only the person with the object, for example, can speak. The other person can only listen. The only speaking they do is to paraphrase.
When you pass the object, the other person becomes the speaker, and so on.
You don’t have to use one of these methods, but decide on some form of framework that you will use when discussing issues.
Separate Problem solving from problem solution
One of the dangers of rushing to a solution is that you don’t solve the real problem.
When you are discussing an issue, make sure you discuss it thoroughly, that each person’s point of view is shared, and that each person understands both sides.
Then, once that is done, move to problem solution. Brainstorm and come up with a solution that you both agree on trying. Then meet again to see how it’s working.
Make it a rule to not start trying to solve something until each of you fully understand each others viewpoints.
Never speak when angry
This is another one of those rules that should apply in every area of your life. You should both decide that, when either of you is angry, you don’t speak. You wait till you calm down and/or the other person calms down.
That’s a good spot for a timeout.
If you know the other person is angry, going at the person or arguing your viewpoint isn’t going to help right then. It may just bring an explosion.
Instead, wait until everyone is calm, then talk.
To always assume the best of motives
Make it a rule that you both will always assume the best of intentions for each other.
Have the assumption that your spouse loves you and that wants the best for your marriage. When something comes across as negative, ask “why would a rational, loving person say or do this?”
You can also say and ask, “Hey, when you did X (or said X), it came across as Y to me. Is that what you meant?”
Make your relationship a priority
One reason many marriages fall apart is that they stopped making it a priority.
When you were dating and first married, you made it a priority. You made it a priority to talk to one another about topics besides logistics and issues, you made it a priority to go on dates and have fun together, and you made romance a priority.
All too often, that fades as time passes. Often the only conversation is about problems and logistics. Dates happen rarely to never and the only “fun” you might have together is watching tv, maybe.
Make it a priority.
Even if you have 5 kids, make it a priority. Otherwise, your marriage will start heading down the road of failure, loneliness, and destruction.
Together, make it a priority to date each other every week. Make it a priority to spend time with each other having fun. Make it a priority to talk to each other about something besides logistics and problems. Make it a priority to have time for romance and sensuality.
Make it a ground rule that these things will happen, period.
As I said in the beginning, these are just some suggestions that you can use, and it is by no means an exhaustive list of ideas. I’m sure you can come up with some great ones based on your marriage.
Remember, ground rules are just rules that you both set together to help guide your marriage in how you handle issues and other areas of your life.
If these rules make you miserable or you or your spouse is trying to force rules on one another for their benefit, you are doing it wrong!
This week, meet with your spouse and go over this list. Talk about what you like and don’t like. Talk about the areas of your life that you think rules will be helpful.
For those who often avoid problems, having ground rules can help them deal with issues. Knowing there is a set time and way that they will deal with issues will help them feel more relaxed during the rest of the week knowing something won’t be forced or thrown at them.
Do you have any ground rules for your marriage that you are willing to share?