An Introduction to Ground Rules

Do not slander a servant to his master,
or he will curse you, and you will pay for it.

Proverbs 30:10

I can pick on my kid sister, but you can’t.

Blood is thicker than water.

Modern Renditions of Proverbs 30:10

Sometimes young couples will come to see just before or right after they are married and tell me everything is going well, but that they would like some advice on how to have a successful marriage.  This is nice when it happens.  It’s too bad it doesn’t happen more often.  There are standard things I like to cover: Communication and sexuality being two big ones.  Another area I like to make sure we go over is what I call Ground Rules.

A Ground Rule is a rule you both agree to and you both will follow.  It is so strong a rule that even if your spouse can’t follow it on a given day, or you are tempted not to follow it, that you will follow it any way.  No one, not even your spouse, can talk you out of it.

For example, one of them I suggest is:

We will never threaten or joke about separation, divorce or having an affair.

You can well imagine why I would suggest this rule.  You can also understand how this rule could be easily broken.  If, for some reason, a couple gets out of control in a fight, it is too easy to go for the jugular and in a fit of anger a person might say:

Why don’t you leave?

The person saying it may not realize what she’s said.  She’s too angry.  She may very well mean:

You need to go calm down.

Then she needs to say that.  If she says:

Why don’t you leave?

instead, it’s too open ended and can be misinterpreted to mean:

Don’t ever come back.  We’re done.

That would be a threat that you can never take back.  I’ve heard couples tell me that after something like this was said, the other spouse took it literally and went and filed for divorce.  Or it planted a seed of doubt and now trust and security become major issues.  Well, I didn’t mean that.  I was just angry.  Well, then, say you are angry.  Don’t make threats if you don’t mean them.  Better yet, don’t ever make threats, no matter how angry you get.  No matter how mad you may think your spouse is making you, don’t go down this road and say these mean things you can never take back.  It’ll bite you in the butt.  It will hurt your spouse.  It will hurt your marriage.

The same thing with threatening or joking about affairs:

Why don’t you go to your girlfriend?

If I can’t get it from you I’ll get it from somebody else.

Ouch!  Talk about nasty.  Again, these statements plant seeds of doubt in your spouse’s mind.  It also makes you more vulnerable to this type of temptation.  You behave and talk like you think, so keep these thoughts far from your mind and even further from your mouth.

Another ground rule I suggest to couples compliments our first at the start of this blog.  It goes like this:

Don’t come between blood.

The only exception to this ground rule is in the case of safety violations.   Let’s not take this rule so far that someone is literally, physically hurt.  But as long as that is not the case, don’t get between them.

For example, let’s say a husband and wife marry and he has a 16-year old daughter.  In a situation like this, 95% of the time the new step-mother and the step-daughter are going to be at odds and the birth father and husband is going to be caught in the middle.  A wise step-mother is going to realize that she will not benefit from raking her step-daughter over the coals, no matter how much of a brat she is.  Since blood is thicker than water, her husband will come to his daughter’s defense every time.  He will think that if you don’t love his daughter, you must not love him and you will plant seeds of doubt in his mind that you really don’t love him after all.  This is not your intent.  But it is the result.

The same way with your mother-in-law.  You should walk the Sahara Desert without water before you’d insult your mother-in-law.  Why?  She’s a jerk, you think, so why can’t I say so?  Because every time you do, you are telling your spouse that you don’t love him.  Every cell in his body has his mother’s chromosomes in it.  You can’t separate a child and mother.  Yeah, yeah, yeah, you’re married now and that’s fine.  You can’t change your mother-in-law, so just relax.  Now if your husband says his mother is a so and so because of such and such, you can be supportive of him but don’t go overboard on insulting his mother.  Please.  You are just borrowing trouble.  Life is hard enough.

Did you hear the one about the mother-in-law who…..

Sorry.

About Dr. Bing

Dr. Bing Wall began Heart to Heart Communication, L.C. (offices in Ames and Urbandale) in 1995 with the goal of applying a strength and mentoring approach to helping people in their relationships through education and therapy. Prior to completing his M.S. and Ph.D. at Iowa State University in the area of Family Studies, Human Development and Marriage and Family Therapy, he was a pastor for 15 years.

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2 Responses to An Introduction to Ground Rules

  1. Philly July 18, 2009 at 10:05 pm #

    Nice touch at the end. I’m so glad I have a wonderful mother-in-law! I never even have to worry about saying anything bad about her! We definitely follow those ground rules…I’d like to hear others!

  2. Dr. Bing July 20, 2009 at 3:46 am #

    Hi Philly, Thanks for the kind remarks on my blog about Ground Rules. I’ve had three other Blogs on Ground Rules so far. Click on the Categories “Ground Rules” on the left hand column. I’ll get to more Ground Rules as we go along. They are very helpful.

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