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Ground Rules

The other week on my flight home from Texas I read an article in Time Magazine by Joel Stein about Mark Zuckerberg’s new marriage. No pre-nup, backyard wedding, taco truck. You’ve heard this one. But this article was about how they’ve made their relationship work through all the facebook craziness. They have rules. A relationship agreement, if you will. The main ones are:

  • He had to take her on a date each week and…
  • He had to spend at minimum 100 minutes of alone time with her outside of the office or his apartment each week.

The rest of the article was kind of funny and kind of stupid, so I didn’t give it much thought except for airplane entertainment. Well, that is until yesterday.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far about marriage: There is an ebb and flow to all relationships, and with marriage it is no different. The different comes with the fact that you live with that person rain or shine, happy or sad, stressed or not, whether they have caught a train to crazy town, been seduced by the irrational-fit-throwing-goddess, or are the normal endearing neurotic they are most of the time. It doesn’t matter because ’till death do you part. So after three weeks of living with a confused and anxious 11 year old boy who was masquerading around as my husband yesterday I hit my breaking point.

The good thing about a breaking point is that it usually gets you out of the house. Since I was already downtown, I aimed to stay there. Kamel, having pulled his head out of his ass just in time, galloped in (with the help of Caltrain) on his trusty white steed to meet me. My stipulations were: We had to go get a drink somewhere, and we were going to talk about whatever the hell was going on without him making a scene. He agreed.

And then we set down some ground rules. I got three and he got three. Because here’s the deal; even though we often have the best intentions of being our best selves, sometimes we need a little help. Sometimes it’s not enough to say “Yeah, I need to manage my time better.” Or, “You know, I should really take more alone time, it always makes me feel so sane.” Or, “I really need to stop being an ass hat, I’ll work on that immediately.” Sometimes we need some help with the follow through.

Our rules involve the way we listen, giving each other permission to be alone, even if we’re just in the other room sometimes, going for a walk at least once a week, and restricting our computer time. Sometimes life just gets out of hand and takes over our minds. Sometimes we forget it’s ok to step away, to say no, that the other person will be there when we get back.

This ’till death do you part thing can be exhausting. But we’re working on it. Admitting you’re wrong, letting things go, not hating each other for being douchebags – that is a shocking amount of work! If you made your own ground rules, what would they be? Have you done this before and how did it pan out? I want to hear from you today.

A year ago I was guest blogging over at A Safe Mooring about summer. Which still gives me ridiculous anxiety.

20 Comments

  1. This! Just last week, my husband and I had our breaking point due to a lot of things you mentioned (the crazies and a lot of time together, etc.). I took myself on a work date and we had one day to NOT talk about it, but just be cool and enjoy each other’s company. The next day, we worked on our ground rules for managing the crazies. So important.

    • Yes! I also feel like it’s the time of year. Summer is here, but we’re still stuck inside, things are ending or starting or I’m not sure what. Is there more angsty stress in june? Or is that just me?

  2. I’d like to read that article about the Zuckerburgs. It sounds interesting. I shall see if I can find it online or if it’s behind the paywall.

    You are right about the breaking point getting you out of the house. I think a lot of people have these breaking-point conversations in the Starbucks I hang out at when I’m writing. This is why giant headphones are a good thing.

    The thing about relationships is that you have to keep working on them. They don’t just reach a point where you’re not building them. That seems obvious to a lot of people, probably, but it’s something I’ve realized in the past few years. And if there is a point where you stop building them, I don’t want to be there. That sounds like death.

    I like the idea of having some ground rules, and I think that’s why a prenup appeals to me. Not that I’m concerned about what-if-we-don’t-work, but because I’d want to have to sit down and hash out all the stuff that people have to wade through to come out with a prenup. Maybe I’ll call it some other word though. Some less-legaly word.

    Some of my working ideas:
    1. We can do spontaneous things, but all spending must stay in budget. (boring, but makes me feel less stressed and stabby)
    2. Date night once a week with a sit-down-at-the-table meal with no television, no radio, and no electronics. (more than once a week is preferable)
    3. We each have at least one activity or interest that we do solo. (alone time)

  3. As you know, LDP, J and I recently got engaged. On the NIGHT OF OUR ENGAGEMENT we had a talk just like this! We are always pulling at my Psychology degree bearing heartstrings: “be rational! work things out! take alone time!”. I love the wine bar/coffee meet up- we can’t go nuts. Or at least I don’t (I have to tell you it gives me SUCH evil satisfaction when in the middle of these conversations I have to tell Josh to ‘keep your voice down. you’re causing a scene’). But even in the douche-est of times, these conversations give me hope that we will always be able to work it out. That we will always WANT to be able to work it out. That couples before and after us will have gone through this and made it. We will make rules and break them, then we’ll make new rules again because we love each other, our happiness is an important priority, and frankly, when you marry someone, you don’t have a choice :).

  4. We’ve had several smaller conversations like the one you had with K. Our ‘rules’ mostly involve trying to take a step back when we’re having a fight so it won’t blow up into something huge over what was originally something tiny, trying to do semi-spontaneous fun things and going out together to spend special time with each other at least a few times a month, and speaking to each other with respect even when we are tired/annoyed/hungry/whatever.

    I think those talks are important. :)

  5. You make several really good points here and I like your ground rules idea. We’ve never made any because my husband doesn’t respond well to things like that, but I did inforce a ‘no talking about the house’ evening last week (we’re in mortgage fun-town at the moment) and it was brilliant.

    • I think rules are stupid, I hate rules. But sometimes we need to be saved from ourselves. Excellent no house night. I love it. :) BE FREEE!

  6. “Or, “I really need to stop being an ass hat, I’ll work on that immediately.””

    Ahaha. This!

    I’m interested to see how marriage changes this dynamic for us. We’ve been living together for 3 years, so some things we have worked out – others we have so, so much work to do. And even though I think some things will feel the same after marriage, I know a lot of others will feel different.

    Some ground rules for me would be:
    1) If I’m started to feel pissy/anxious, before I fly off the deep end, EAT SOMETHING FOR GOD’S SAKE. 99% of the time that’ll avoid a freakout.
    2) Be more flexible to change.

    Some ground rules for him:
    1) Be wary of the rabbit-hole that is the internet/video games.
    2) Come to bed at a reasonable time. You’ll be a lot less cranky/tired the next day :P

    For both of us:
    1) Take time each week to just be with each other, not in the presence of books/movies/TV/whatever.

    • Ha! I love the ‘Eat something’ rule. I get really grump when I’m hungry but for some reason am completely unable to recognise that that’s why I’m grumpy. Which makes for some interesting conversations. I think I might make this my own new personal rule (and if I put on ten pounds, I’m totally blaming you).

      Lauren, I can’t believe that was this time last year! It was an honour to have you :)

  7. Bunny and I don’t really have many long-standing rules, except one: say “I love you” even when we’re mad at each other. For us, that’s the most important time to acknowledge our love, and stopping to tell the other person that they are loved also reminds us that yes, we might be really pissed (or just pissy) but that fact doesn’t change. For me, sometimes just saying those words gives me a moment to reflect on what the underlying emotion that’s getting me all worked up is, or realize I’m over-reacting because of something else going on.

    When we’re working through something, or work schedules/life stresses are getting in the way of us actually spending quality time together and loving each other sometimes we set short term rules as well (they tend to be “more snuggles” or “dates once a week” or “tell me that you need space and I’ll give it to you”) and they’re a great help.

    • i totally heart your “i love you” rule!!! i’m definitely going to adopt this and encourage my fiance to do the same!

  8. J used to think that scheduling date nights was something that people with troubled marriages or kids did. Getting out of our house together and doing something that is not an errand is something that transforms our relationship though. I dress up and put on a bit of makeup. We try something new together. We have discussions without the TV on in the background. Two of the ground rules we try to live by include not talking about incidents that occurred more than 6 months before (letting go of old business) and respecting the other person if they ask for a time out. It’s nice to know we’re not the only ones – attacking problems in your relationship can make you feel like you’re failing and everybody is blissfully going about in love. But every relationship takes work.

    • You don’t talk about things that happened 6 months + ago?? THIS IS REVOLUTIONARY FOR ME! HOLY SHIT!

      • We set this same rule (well, ours is a year, but same-difference) when a couple we’re friends with told us they did it. It definitely helps us a lot!

        If we’re still having strong feelings about something a year later, we can definitely still talk about it (duh), but I’m not allowed to bring up “that time in 11th grade when you went to the movies with Danielle and didn’t invite me!” in the middle of a fight about who should do the dishes tonight.

        Seriously, it changed our lives.

        • such an amazing rule! thanks, both of you, for sharing!

  9. So, I guess you know my wife of 30 years. The one major point that we have always lived by is that divorce is not an option. Killing maybe, but not divorce. It took a long time and many years to get to the point that we both can stop an argument and just say, “Oh well, let’s just move on”. Some things are just not worth fighting about any more. And I would say that the most important rule that we live by is “I’ve got your back, you’ve got mine and you are truly my best friend.” That and a lot of gin/scotch have made 30 years of marriage a good one. What is love? Being with your mom every day. You just gotta love that woman.

    You and K. have a lot going for you. Being able to talk about things, set rules and try to live by them is a great start. Remember to take a look at these rules now and then and adjust as time goes on.

    love you tons.
    DB

    • I love this! My parents are each twice divorced, so I always love seeing good examples of healthy, love-filled, lasting marriages elsewhere. What you say is something my husband and I work on – remembering we are a team who should support each other always, and to just let things go when an argument isn’t worth it.

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Who the hell is she?


Lauren

I am a writer living in Seattle and I believe that life is a grand adventure and only boring if you believe it to be. Plus! You don't need money to have fun.

I live with my husband, a photographer by education and a maker-of-video-games by trade, and a baby named gabe in an apartment on the hill.

I am romantic about most things and I cry... about almost anything. I tell stories to entertain you, I spread stories to keep you in the loop. I am not a grammar freak, but I do know how to spell it. I am exceedingly proud of my scrambled eggs and I really could eat an entire pan of cupcakes. If I met me, I would be my best friend. I tend to be irreverent.

If you would like to chat with me or see what else I'm up to you can follow me on Twitter (betterinrealife), on facebook, or email me at betterinrealife at gmail.


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