3 Ways to Find the Rules for Your Relationships

Posted: Feb 03 2016

In my previous post, I discussed the importance of rules in relationships.

Today we will answer the next big question: How do we set the right conditions or rules for the relationships in our lives? Well, the answers can be found in three categories.

CATEGORY ONE – The Obvious

There should be obvious conditions for most kinds of relationships.

· My wife cannot date other men.
· I’m not allowed to have girlfriends.
· Our eight-year-old is not allowed to drive the family vehicles.
· Our sixteen-year-old daughter cannot spend the night at her boyfriend’s house.
· You should not lie to your friends and stab them in the back.
· You have to go to work if you want to get paid.
· Don’t tell your mother-in-law that you saw her sister riding a broom in the Wizard of Oz.
· Try to avoid going to church drunk (many pastors frown on that).

Sadly, I must admit that what was once “obvious” is getting less and less so.

I remember John who came into my office for marriage counseling. He told me that he and his wife Sarah had been in a big argument. You see, Sarah was working for a new start up company and frequently had to be on the road promoting the business. She had recently proposed to her husband the following scenario: “Do you mind if I just share a room with Larry (the owner of the company) when we travel? There would still be two beds and the company could save a lot of money by booking just one room instead of two.”

And now you know what the argument was about.

You would think that the question of “Can I sleep in the same room as another man?” would certainly be in the “Obvious Category”, but apparently, things are not as obvious today as one would expect…

CATEGORY TWO – The Debatable

Then we come to what must be debated. And what I mean by debated is: struggled through, fought out, and painfully wrestled down.

· What time do I have to be home?
· Who will do which chores?
· Who can be friends with whom?
· What is appropriate behavior for our home?
· What kind of programs can be viewed?
· Who can you “friend” on Facebook?
· What kinds of “tweets” are inappropriate?
· How and over what will the children be disciplined?
· Specifically, what will and will not be tolerated?

These are the types of questions with which we struggle in every relationship. They are usually settled after great debate (a nice word for fighting). These are questions that apply to your specific situations, and they vary. What you might allow your kids to do may be different than what we allow our kids to do. What programs and movies you watch in your home may be different from the decisions we have made in ours. Most people can, however, successfully (though painfully) work their way through these many varied scenarios of life.

I am amazed at how many people think that their marriage should be exempt from this stage. That if “we truly love each other” then this stage would not exist. But to believe this is to engage in a fantasy. Even the best marriages on Earth must endure this stage. In fact, it is precisely enduring this stage that puts these marriages in the “best on Earth” category.

We have an online profile that couples can take to help them discover each other in a more meaningful way. It is called The Flag Page (www.flagpage.com). In this assessment couples can easily identify the things that are the most important to each individual and can help explain why they act and react in certain ways. Part of the test helps to identify people’s temperaments. We break them into what we call four different emotional Countries: Control Country, Fun Country, Perfect Country and Peace Country. And while many tests place people into different temperaments and then “stick” them into one temperament category or the other, our test shows how much of each temperament is in you, which is much more precise. It creates a more accurate picture of who you are.

Of the four temperaments or “Countries”, the largest one and the one more people tend to identify with than the other three, is Peace Country. Most people in the world just want Peace in their relationships. Which brings us to this conundrum: You cannot get to peace with people without conflict.

I know, I know… it sounds counterintuitive. If you want peace you have to avoid conflict, right? Wrong. People who constantly avoid conflict are the very people who seem to always face it.

As I travel around the world, one of the big complaints I hear about being an American is, “You people always bomb other people!!” Of course, we don’t always bomb other countries, but make no mistake, Western powers are fairly likely to strike if they feel their interests are threatened.

It wasn’t always like that. In fact, America used to go to great efforts to avoid conflicts. But some seventy years ago, there was a young fellow by the name of Adolf who was going around Europe causing all kinds of trouble. The West went to great efforts to appease him and to get along for the sake of “peace.” The end result, the worst conflict in the history of mankind resulting in the deaths of tens of millions of people. Ever since then we are much more likely to “bomb” than to just let things get out of control. The saying of “Peace through strength” is true and relevant.

Couples that try to avoid this step of “The Debatable” end up with no peace. Here is the irony: If you run from conflict you will never find peace. People who avoid conflict tend to go from one relationship to another. Why? Because without conflict, peace is not possible.

A man came into my office wanting marital advice. He told me, “My wife asked me to move out of the house, rent another apartment and take our nine-year-old son with me, so I did.”

I asked, “Who is paying for the house?”

“I am,” he replied. “Everything – the mortgage, utilities, taxes and upkeep.”

“Why did she ask you to move out?” I was expecting the usual suspects - because I drink too much, or I’m not sensitive to her needs, or she just needs some time to herself - but no such luck.

“She wanted her boyfriend to move in with her.”

My eyes must have been as big as saucers.

“Your wife asked you to move into your own apartment, take the kid with you, and keep paying for the house she is in so she can have her boyfriend move in?!? Why on earth would you agree to something as crazy as that?!!”

“Well,” he gently responded, “I didn’t want to get her upset.”

WHAT!!!???? Clearly, this was a man who, for the sake of peace, endured the most outrageous insults a man could endure. But what kind of peace is that? Clearly he was not experiencing peace, which was why he came to see me. (In retrospect, me yelling at him probably did him no good. It did, however, make me feel a lot better…)

You want REAL peace?? You must endure some conflict. Without conflict there can be no peace.

“Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” (Proverbs 27:6)

Now, I am not advocating yelling and screaming at each other in a fit of rage. That is some of the most unproductive energy you will ever burn. But the importance of wrestling through what IS and is NOT acceptable in a relationship cannot be over stated. I know you want peace, but the only way you can get to lasting peace with people in your life is to endure some conflict in order to get it.

“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17)


Check out my next blog post when we discuss CATEGORY THREE of the Rules for Relationships.

*From my book “The Battle Over Rules” available at: www.markgungor.com