Should Marriages Have Rules?

I say YES!

Juan-Lydia 3My wife and I married shortly after we met. We didn’t know what we were doing. We just knew we wanted to get married, so we did. Our first six years were miserable. We were separated the seventh year and going through a divorce. It was only by God’s mercy that our marriage was saved. That was 33 years ago (as of 2015). We have now been married for 40 years, and we got here the hard way. We both thank God for intervening in our lives and changing the course of our disastrous relationship.

Over these last 33 years, my wife, Lydia, and I have learned much. Especially, we have learned that we will not always get what we want. We have learned to be content with what we have, and to have mercy on each other. We are aware of each other’s faults and imperfections. We have learned to accept some of those from each other. We have learned that we don’t need to argue over every single thing that bothers us of the other. We have learned to pick our battles. We know we will win some, lose some, and sometimes we both will win or both will lose. In all cases we learned that if we try to win all the time then we will likely lose the marriage.

Greyscale - Poster sizeThe one thing that has helped us to survive as a couple, more than anything else, is that we realized that if we could agree to certain conditions or situations then we would have less to argue about. We did not like arguing, and just trying to avoid confrontations or ignoring the problems never solved anything. We learned that when we did ignore the problems, or try to avoid confrontation, things ended up worse than they were before.

What we did was we started a list of the things we had agreed to do or not do as a couple. Some of the things that ended up on our lists were the result of problems we had suffered in the first six years of our marriage. Those were the easy ones to identify and consider for inclusion onto the list. We remembered a problem area and came to an agreement as to how to handle that situation in the future.

For example, we suffered through adultery. Due to that we agreed that neither of us would have a friend of the opposite sex without the agreement of the other before that friendship gets started. You can see the advantage to this already, I hope. If either of us even considers having a friend of the opposite sex, then we have to think of a good reason why our spouse would want to agree with that. As you can see, the chances of my wife agreeing that I should have a female friend is little to none. So I don’t end up with a female friend, and we don’t ever end up fighting over a person who is not in our lives.

Marital rules (or boundaries) will work only if both persons choose to keep their word. If you are experiencing trust issues in your marriage that relate to someone not keeping his or her word, then setting rules or boundaries will have no positive effect at all. You first need to resolve the trust issues so that you can afterward work on the marriage. This could involve months of counseling where you both learn about boundaries and consequences.

Trust is the glue that holds a marriage together. It is when both spouses are able to trust the word of the other that peace and security reign in that marriage. The truth is that both spouses want to have a good marriage, but too often they do not know how to get there. Neither got any training on how to be a husband or wife before they got married, right?

For the purposes of this post, I will assume that you and your spouse want to have a peaceful and secure marriage. I will also assume that you and your spouse want to do whatever it takes to reduce, if not entirely eliminate, arguing with each other. I will also assume that both of you have demonstrated to the other that you will keep your word, and can be trusted by him or her. Finally, I will assume that you both have come to the conclusion that if you had a set of rules or boundaries, you would have a more secure and happy marriage. If, and I emphasize the word, “if,” the above is true of you both, you will find the following useful.

These “rules” work for us because they were practically sculpted for us by us. You may find them useful as a guide for forming your own “rules.” You will notice that these “rules” are written in a general form. They are not the exact rules my wife and I have for each other, the wording in those is specific to our circumstances and situations. These are more general for use as guides for forming your own “rules.”

1. Never have a “friend” of the opposite sex, without the knowledge and approval of your spouse.

a. Don’t fool yourself, just because you may deny that the relationship is no more than a “friendship” the other person may have something completely different in mind. They can become your “fatal attraction” situation. Even if you are convinced that the other person understands that this is no more than a friendship, things can get way out of control before you know what is happening. If the other person does get attached to you and want more than what you are giving, they can make it look like you two are doing something wrong. Just a phone call from them could get your spouse very angry.

b. You both should also consider not having friends that your spouse does not like. This is also an area that causes problems with couples. Always remind yourself that you married your spouse because you want to be with them the rest of your life. This alone should help when considering who to keep happy, your spouse or your friend.

2. Never share the private “troubles” you are having with a person of the opposite sex, without the prior knowledge and approval of your spouse.

a. There is something troubling to men and women when their spouse shares private problems with other people, without their prior knowledge. Especially when the other person is of their sex. For example, speaking with your mother about problems with your wife can be troubling with your wife if she did not agree with that to begin with. Or, for example, speaking with another man about private problems with your husband.

b. The only exceptions should be when speaking with a counselor or pastor who will promise to keep the conversations private.

3. If you are going to start talking, about your problems with your spouse, with others, let the first one be a Christian marriage counselor, pastor, or trusted church leader (who will not take sides).

a. It is important to have someone we can discuss our concerns with, who will care. Talking to relatives, friends and acquaintances is a bad idea, because they will likely take sides, even if they say they won’t. Professionals are usually much better at remaining objective. Anyway, what you need is someone who will not take sides to also let you know what you are doing wrong, or what you can also change.

4. Never hide serious problems; secrecy is the friend of the abuser. Exposing the problem is the first step to a solution.

a. The truth is if you hide, or lie about, the abuse you are letting the abuser know that he or she can keep on doing it without worrying about consequences. It is a lie that the abuser will come to realize, all by themselves, that they are doing wrong and quit. Where there are no consequences there is permission. If the abuse should happen to extend to the children, and you know about it and do not report it, you also will be charged with child abuse. Just because you were scared to report it won’t hold up in court.

b. Do not allow the lie, “Our problems are for us to resolve by ourselves alone, and no one needs to know what is happening” become a cover for the one doing the wrong and hurtful thing. Yes try to work them out, but if you see that things are not changing, then reach out for help. As an example, no problems should takes months of “working out.” If you aren’t finding a solution in a week or two, call for help.

5. Do not let fear and embarrassment keep you quiet when you really need to reach out for help.

a. Pride is stupid if your marriage is in trouble, get help! Is it better to be embarrassed and find a solution, or not to be embarrassed and continue to have problems?

6. Establish clear and healthy boundaries, with clear and well thought out consequences for the violation of those boundaries, and then stick to them no matter how difficult it gets.

a. The principle is: If you have no boundaries, you will have problems, if you have boundaries, you eliminate many problems. You choose.

b. Keep in mind that boundaries do not work if you don’t have clear consequences associated with them. For example, if your husband behaves badly, and all you do is get angry, then you gave him permission to keep up that behavior. But if you take something away from him that he likes, until he changes his behavior, then he will understand that you have limits that he should not cross.

7. Remember, your spouse and children are your FAMILY, others are relatives, friends, and acquaintances.

a. Many couples have problems with this simple concept. They call their relatives family, so then they feel obligated to them. This becomes a problem when one has to choose between his or her real family (you, your spouse, and your kids) and the extended family (relatives). Many times people confuse their obligations so much that they have constant battles with their spouses over this subject.

b. Your spouse and kids are YOUR FAMILY. Other relatives are just that, relatives. Your first obligation belongs to your family, and the relatives always have to come in second.

8. Your spouse has priority over everyone else, no matter what the situation or circumstance, including children.

a. Never side with someone else against your spouse in public. Even if they are wrong. Always be on your spouse’s side when there is a disagreement with someone else. You can always disagree with your spouse at home, in private. The only exception to this should be during counseling.

b. Even when it comes to the children, always side with your spouse in front of them, and disagree in private, if you must. To the degree that you argue with your spouse in front of your children, they will learn to lose respect for you.

9. Be fair in the expectations you impose on your spouse; do not expect your spouse to read your mind, and “NO!” they probably don’t know what you think they should just because they are adults.

a. Remember that they cannot read minds. If you did not say it, they probably do not know it. If you want your spouse to know you like or dislike something, take time to share this with them when you are not angry. Trying to do that during an argument is the worst time.

b. When deciding what is fair to expect from your spouse consider several things: abilities and talents, age, sex, education, physical limitations, and so on. Don’t decide that they should be able to do something just because you can. That is not fair.

10. Never use the “D” word (divorce) in an argument, once one of you says it, you cannot take it back. It will eat at both of you from then on.

a. People who throw the “D” word around are usually frustrated because they have “tried everything” and nothing works, so they resort to threats. Find a counselor and start working on your problems, only if your spouse refuses to try should you consider divorce.

b. If you find yourself making threats, it is because you have run out of effective ways to solve your problems, find a counselor.

11. It is not fair to walk away from an argument, but it is also unfair to keep arguing just because you want to win.

a. The real goal of arguing should not be to win. The goal should be to find a solution. Walking away from an argument means that you want to win and are not doing so. Offer a workable solution that either is beneficial for both of you, or at least one in which neither of you wins.

b. For example, you spouse says you spend too much, and you say you don’t spend enough. The compromise could be that you agree on each getting a set allowance and you limit your spending to that amount. This way you can spend all your allowance, and still not be overspending.

12. The only time sexual intercourse should withheld, is because of health reasons (illness, monthly period, etc.), spiritual reasons (fasting and prayer), and, during troubled times, but only after having met with a counselor for reasons of imposing a consequence due to a boundary violation.

a. Sex must never be used as a weapon. The minute you do you will ruin something good and valuable between the two of you. On the other hand, sex is also a reward, and you must never reward bad behavior on the part of your spouse.

b. Sex is a right for both of you due to marriage, but how often and how enjoyable is a privilege. Privileges are something that is earned by doing something good for the person giving the privilege. For example, your husband wants to have sex more often, you want him to help clean the house. He helps you clean the house more often, and you have enjoyable sex with him more often.

13. Never use the Bible to attack or try to coerce each other for any reason (first go to counseling).

a. One mistake many Christians make is, due to their frustrations of not getting their way, they start using the Bible to try and control the other. God did not intend for His word to be used as a battering ram to get what you want from others. For every verse that you throw at your spouse there is likely one that you are ignoring about you.

b. The better way to use the Bible in reference to marriage is to take marital counseling, go to seminars, get into a married couples Bible study, and so forth. This way both of you will hear what God wants from you as a husband and wife.

14. Think carefully, before you give your word. Always keep your word.

a. Many times people give their “word” over stupid stuff. Then when they get into trouble, they argue that they were just keeping their word. The correct manner in which to give your word is:

i. First, think about what you are going to promise (even if you don’t use that word). There are things that can be done and some that cannot. Some things can be done, but not at the time they are wanted. Don’t give your word and know you cannot keep the time limit. Some things will depend on other concerns, such as work. For example you quickly give your word that you will take the family to the park Saturday. The next day the boss says that you have to work overtime on Saturday on that it is not optional. Just because you did not think and mention that your job may interfere (and that is your responsibility alone), your wife and kids are upset with you. You may tell yourself that it was not your fault, but it was.

ii. Secondly, give your word. Don’t play ignorant or be wishy-washy. You should be able to give your word and keep it. Too many persons, especially men, want their spouses to believe everything they say, but will also fail to give their word because they know they will not keep it.

iii. Secondly, you keep your word. If you thought about what was being asked of you, and you considered the possibilities, then keep your word without fail. Nobody likes a liar, and anyone who breaks his word looks like a liar. If you practice these three steps, you will find that people, especially your spouse, will have more respect for you.

15. Consider, develop, plan out, and write down a plan for your lives together.

a. The Bible teaches that people without vision perish. In other words, if you don’t have clear (and written down) plans for the future, then you are just living day by day. People who have long term plans they are both working toward have a greater chance of a successful and long-lasting marriage.

b. By the way, working toward the same goal does not mean you both have verbally agreed it would be a great idea if it happened. Working together on future plans means that you set smaller goals that each of you do something specifically to accomplish, as you work your way to the big ones.

c. For example, let’s say you agree to buy a car in one year. To accomplish this you both decide to reduce spot save money, so you can buy the car with as little credit as possible. Each of you lists some things that you will cut back on; eliminating cable TV, getting rid of the gym membership, stop buying AVON products until then, and so on. This way you both can see the other doing something that is obvious and helps to accomplish the goal.

d. This includes planning for children, schools, education, savings, etc.

16. Never listen to anyone (including relatives) who say negative things to you about your spouse, make it clear to them you refuse to engage in that type of conversation.

a. If you believe you have problems with your spouse, bring it up to them, or call a counselor for a session. Other people’s opinions are not important. They won’t have all the details and will get things wrong.

b. On the other hand, do not blind yourself to wrongs your spouse may be committing. When you realize you have a problem with your spouse call for help.

17. Make time for each other (dating, sex, fun, etc.), force it if you have to, life will conspire against you to steal those precious times from each other.

a. That’s right, I said “force it” if you have to. One of the biggest complaints that wives have is that their husbands do not make time for just them two alone. If you have to start off by forcing yourself to make time then do it. Once you see the benefits you will change your mind.

b. You might lie to yourself about having plenty of time to do this or that with each other, but life can be short. You never know what may happen tomorrow. Do not be one of those people that waited too long.

18. Always put the real needs of your spouse ahead of yours, if you both do this, you will both be happy.

a. You have heard that marriage is supposed to be fifty-fifty, well that’s a lie. The truth is it is supposed to be one hundred-one hundred. If both of you are giving one hundred to the marriage, then you are also receiving one hundred in return. Nobody loses and everybody wins.

19. Never separate just to separate.

a. Have a goal for the separation which will include the possibility of finding a solution and getting back together.

b. First go to counseling for other options. If none will work at the moment, separate (if necessary).

c. Secondly set conditions for the reconciliation of your marriage.

d. Thirdly, communicate your boundaries to your spouse.

e. Fourthly, follow the instructions of the counselor.

20. Confrontation is a necessary and healthy part of communication in relationships, when it is used correctly.

a. Don’t wait to confront a problem until it’s full blown.

b. Ignoring something that is wrong or bothersome, just because it seems like a small matter means that it will have all the time it needs to grow.

c. Once it grows, you will have a monster to deal with, monsters are very hard to get rid of, and they can destroy your marriage.

d. People usually avoid confronting due to fear. Fear will never produce anything positive in your marriage.

21. Have only one argument at a time.

a. Do not start bringing up other situations which are not part of the present and immediate issue, even if you sort of think it relates. There has to be a clear and obvious connection. Otherwise, you will end up fighting over several things at the same time, and nobody wins, but you both lose.

b. People bring up other issues during an argument because they feel frustrated that they are not winning in the present argument. They hope that by bringing up lots of other stuff they will distract you and win the argument.

22. Do not lie to yourselves about how you are different from every other couple.

a. You will encounter all of the same obstacles, problems, situations, and circumstances that others have. The difference will, if any, be how you handle those problems.

b. You can do the same as every other couple and argue and fight over and over about the same things, or you can be different by forcing the issue and establishing rules for your marriage.

c. Remember this: where there are no consequences, there is permission.

d. If you keep doing the same things over and over, then you will get the same results over and over.

23. Violence is never acceptable.

a. You should use violence ONLY when defending your family or yourself. Only in defense, never attack.

b. Hiding the truth about physical violence is the way to give permission to the abuser to keep doing it.

c. Call the police and have him or her arrested. Never accept violence against yourself.

24. Drinking (liquor) or any use of legally prescribed drugs becomes a problem when the user begins to behave badly or dangerously.

a. Neither should be accepted in the home, unless the user demonstrates personal self-control and self-discipline that is not harmful to anyone else.

b. Any person with past alcoholism problems should refrain from drinking under any condition or any amount, no matter how small.

25. Husband “love” your wife, wife “respect” your husband.

a. Regarding this statement from the Bible, “love” means to be patient with your wife. It also means to take time to pay attention to her. It also means to spend time with her doing what she likes. It also means to tell her she is special and beautiful to you, no matter how she looks. And so forth.

b. “Respect” means to treat him like a grown man, not like a kid. It also means do not keep nagging and trying to make him act the way you want. It also means to tell him how much you care for him and like him. It also means to brag about him to others. And so forth.

26. Avoid anything that even looks like adultery.

a. Adultery comes in several forms:

i. A sexual relationship with someone who is not your spouse.

ii. An emotional relationship with someone who is not your spouse, even if no sex is involved.

iii. Any relationship with a person of the opposite sex, who is not your spouse, and your spouse is not aware. Relationships are any interaction with any person that involves more than just casual acknowledgment, and where something is expected, no matter how small.

b. What makes something adultery is that there has been deception on the part of the one who does it. Deception is when you or your spouse are hiding something from the other that could hurt them or hurt the marriage. If there is nothing going on, then why not tell your spouse about the person?

27. Love is what you DO.

a. Love is NOT what you feel. Liking someone is how you feel. Love is doing the best for the other person, not just feeling it.

b. Like does not require you to do anything. It just means you feel something good about someone else. Like considers only what makes you feel good. Love considers what is good for the other.

28. Your FAMILY is your husband, wife, and children (until they are legally adults).

a. Everyone else, including parents, siblings, and others are your relatives.

b. Too many couples have unnecessary arguments because they don’t seem to understand that when they got married they created a new family.

c. Now that you have your new and real family, everyone else is a relative, friend, or acquaintance.

d. You obligation is to your family (spouse and children), before anyone else on this planet. Never put relatives ahead of your real family.

29. You are accountable to your spouse, and responsible to your family.

a. Accountable means:

i. Your spouse has the right to know anything about you, and should not be denied any information which will directly impact them.

ii. It also means that God will expect you to obey His Word, and that He will “discipline” you if you do not.

b. Responsibility means:

i. That you are to meet all of your family’s needs, by getting and keeping a job, unless you have come to an agreement to do different.

ii. Keeping yourself healthy enough to care for them. No illegal drug use, or other behavior which could cripple or damage you.

iii. Avoiding criminal activity which could stop you from caring for them. This could even include hanging out with others who may be involved in criminal activity, even if you are not. Police officers will arrest everyone around, and can charge you with complicity in the crimes. Even if you did not join in the crime, if they think you knew about it and didn’t report it is enough to charge you with conspiracy.

iv. Avoiding relationships with others which could result in harm to your family. This means anybody, including mom and dad and siblings. If you have a friend that your spouse does not like, get rid of the friend and keep your spouse.

v. Being obedient to the Word of God, as it pertains to your overall familial and marital responsibilities.

If you don’t know, or are not aware of, what the Bible says about being a husband or wife, then get into a church where they have classes for couples and start learning.

If you want to learn more about this, leave a comment regarding this post, and email me at pastor.juan.perez@gmail.com, and I will send you a free copy of my book, “Write It Down,” where I go into even deeper explanation and instruction on this subject.

 

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