Does Your Relationship Need Ground Rules?

relationship_ground_rulesEarlier this year I was working with one couple who were struggling mightily in their relationship.  They had been married more than a few years, yet both were left feeling somewhat unstable in their relationship.  They both felt “on edge” and it was only partially related to the frequent conflict they endured.

The “D” Word

Initially, this couple raised a few different issues that they identified as problems in their relationship.  However, one of the least important issues they raised had to do with how they’d argue.  Unfortunately, each time they got into a heated disagreement, one partner would inevitably invoke that nasty “D” word!  DIVORCE!  This partner, while desperately wanting to be heard, was contributing to the overall sense of instability in their relationship which they BOTH experienced.

Clean It Up!

It became evident fairly soon how damaging the “D” word was for their relationship. Interestingly, even the partner who consistently used this word realized that they also felt a similar sense of instability and were feeling very uneasy about their relationship.  So before helping this couple improve their communication skills, we decided to establish some critical ground rules to follow in their relationship.

This couple agreed to the following:

1)  The word “divorce” would not be used in their relationship as any kind of threat, manipulation or attempt to be heard.

2)  During contentious arguments, they agreed to not use any profanity.

3)  They also agreed on the best times in their schedules to discuss difficult or contentious issues.

4)  They vowed to strive to “reschedule” a discussion if either of them was too angry (when they really knew nothing productive could come out of any discussion/argument).

 Communication Skills 101

After establishing ground rules, this couple wanted to continue to figure out a way to resolve their issues by learning some communication fundamentals.  We went over some basic communication steps (which takes place with almost all the couples I work with) and this couple was able to practice in session and at home.  After about two weeks of practice, this couple rather quickly was able to engage in what I would call “healthy disagreements” where each partner truly felt heard.

Road Is Paved

Interestingly and to this couple’s surprise, the issues that this couple originally presented with started to feel much less problematic for them.  They were pleasantly surprised to be able to find some common ground and reasonable compromises on most of their issues. Both partners identified that the establishment of ground rules was what really allowed them to successfully resolve their differences.

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