Wouldn’t it be great if schools taught us how to be married? You fall in love with an amazing person – you’re so right for each other. Surely being married
is no different, right? Until the first disappointment surfaces.
Your mother taught you to hold your cutlery a certain way. To your amazement, you discover your partner was raised by wolves – they hold their knife and fork like shovels, or wave them around in the air.
Then you discover they hang the toilet paper the wrong way around. Doesn’t everyone know it should hang in a waterfall effect?
What happens when there’s conflict over the right way to stack a dishwasher?
Can you be with someone who behaves in such an uncultured way?
You may be thinking, what on earth is she on about? How can such trivia matter?
But in some cases, a relationship with an amazing human being will end over such controversial etiquette. Small annoyances build, creating niggling conflict and resentment.
We can be completely unaware of our invisible rule book, which was created by our parents, our culture and our society.
We walk around armed with self-righteousness and moral superiority, thinking, ‘Why do people do that? Surely they know better. I would never do that’.
However, your spouse is being confronted with a personal rule book they were previously unaware of. It’s so powerful that after 10 years of blissful union, they’ve married you, only to discover they are subjected to an invisible marriage manual and new expectations abound.
Without apparent reason, the relationship implodes.
Sadly, once someone contravenes our rule book, we see them as wrong and punish them, in subtle and not-so-subtle ways.
Consider how you punish your loved ones. You don’t? Hmm, let’s see.
Have you ever engaged in the silent treatment? Have you spoken in harsh or critical tones?
Do you withdraw to the shed, or ‘decide’ you are too tired to make dinner? Do you do things you know they find annoying? Do you criticise?
Do you withhold affection? Do you delay returning a call or text?
So what is the solution? Can we throw out our rule book? Probably not. It represents our values, after all.
Maybe we can choose to withhold our expectations – to consider or appreciate the reasons for our spouse’s ways.
From now on, let’s allow ourselves to become curious about why people do what they do, instead of imposing our views.
Rather than reacting judgementally, perhaps consider being curious and asking questions; being gentle and gracious in our interactions.
This might improve your skills in influence and negotiation, too. In all relationships, we are more effective when we stop judging and start understanding and learning.