“Rules of Engagement”
Growing up, my parents enforced certain rules in our home. One which was that cake and ice cream do not comprise an acceptable dinner substitute. As a sugar fiend with a sweet tooth the size of Texas, I was indignant. How dare they infringe on my rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of chocolate?!? I counted down the years until I would be free to make my own dinner choices and could eat as many sweets as I pleased.
However, as I matured, I realized that my parents were not trying to be controlling, but rather they knew what was best for me. They created that rule because they did not want me to get sick and hurt my body. In fact, when I have children, I will establish similar rules.
Just like families need rules to promote health, fairness, and over all well-being, so do marriages. During our engagement, my husband and I took part in an eight-week counseling course called Engaged. During this course, our leaders encouraged us to come up with “Non-Negotiables” and “Fight Rules” for our marriage.
“Non-Negotiables” are things that my husband and I will always do (or will strive to do) or will never do (or will strive not to do). They encompass all aspects of marriage, from how we spend our money to how we spend our time. Here are some of ours:
- “We will strive to ask the other person before making a purchase of $100 or more.”
- “We will strive to have at least one date night each week. We will always have at least two date nights a month.”
- “We will strive to avoid idols in our marriage, including children and jobs.”
When you and your fiancé develop your “Non-Negotiables,” try to be as specific and practical as possible. Avoid using vague terms like “we will always love each other.”
“Fight Rules” apply to situations of tense discourse. When developing these, be honest with yourself about any bad habits you tend to slip into during arguments. Also, ask your significant other if there is an area you need to work on. For instance, in the past I resorted to a manipulative tactic often called the “silent treatment,” which meant I would emotionally shut down when I was upset. When we developed our “Fight Rules,” my then-fiancé gently expressed that he felt hurt and rejected when I did this, as if I did not care enough about our relationship to talk through our problems. So we came up with the following “Fight Rule” …
- “We will not shut down or use the silent treatment during an argument.”
By identifying this bad habit and prohibiting it from our arguments, I have been able to avoid this pitfall and encourage healthy discussion during times of disagreement.
Once you and your fiancé have created your own “Non-Negotiables” and “Fight Rules,” make it a priority to review them every few months to keep yourselves in check. Some dear friends of mine had the brilliant idea to frame theirs and hang them in the hallway to serve as a constant reminder.
Playing by these rules will help cultivate a healthy, balanced marriage. Now, where’s my chocolate …