Every couple should have a set of rules they live by. In this article, we discuss 5 indispensable rules for a happy marriage every couple should understand.
Pete ad Laura Wakeman
Pete and Laura Wakeman are inspiring. They are the couple who started Great Harvest Bread. They started it in 1976 right out of college. It now has more than 200 stores.
It is a great story because they made a few rules early on that determined how they would run their business and live their lives.
Their rules included things like”
- Never work on weekends (always have a 2 day weekend)
- Only work 1000 hours a year (that’s less than 4 hours a day, Monday-Friday)
- No discussing work after hours
- Always take 3-week trips (sometimes longer, but never shorter)
Those rules don’t sound like aggressive business building plans, but they were the rules they wanted to live by. And they did. On one of their ‘trips’ they hiked for 31 straight days.
You may be wondering, how did they do it? They established a set of rules that governed their decisions and actions. They called them ‘handrails.’ In their own words:
Those things are what we have always called handrails — physical things that make it almost impossible not to live how we want.
That’s an important statement. One you should contemplate. They made a decision to live a certain way. That meant NOT doing certain things.I believe every couple should have a set of rules that govern their marriage. This shouldn't be done in a way that makes your partner feel restricted, rather in a way that sets boundaries you both agree to operate within. Click To Tweet
The point I want to make is not about the rules they set. But the fact that they established these handrails to guide them along the way.
I believe every couple should have a set of rules that govern their marriage. This shouldn’t be done in a way that makes your partner feel restricted, rather in a way that sets boundaries you both agree to operate within.
A simple search on Google will reveal there are many ‘rules for a successful marriage’ you can apply to your marriage. For example, here is a list I compiled in less than 10 minutes from a quick search.
- Practice forgiveness
- Keep Short Accounts Of Wrong (apologize frequently)
- Discuss issues; don’t attack the person
- Actively listen to each other
- Discuss your feelings, but keep them in perspective
- Remember the good times
- Keep intimacy alive
- Refuse to judge each other
- Celebrate your wins
- Choose to be positive
- Give 5 times more compliments than complaints
- Share experiences that make you feel close
- Don’t bring up the past once it’s dealt with
- Give respect
- Don’t be selfish
- Don’t interrupt
- Keep your emotions in check
- Realize change is not the enemy
- Say ‘I love you’ every day (and mean it)
- Don’t let problems grow
- Tell your partner what you need
- Stop trying to change them
- Find ways to laugh together
- Share responsibilities
- Plan times together (date nights)
- Spend quality time together
This list only scratches the surface of things you can do to make your marriage better and create a healthy relationship.
My goal is not to give you a list to follow; rather, I want to give you a few concepts that run deeper than those listed above.
Don’t misunderstand. The items mentioned above are good. Useful. And practical. However, my approach is a little different. Rather than giving you specific THINGS you should do, I want to give you a foundation you can build these things upon.
For example, what I want to present is the difference between understanding the golden rule and a list of behaviors that reflect the rule. My focus is on really understanding the rule. You’ll figure out how to apply it if you embrace the essence of what it is about.
In fact, let’s start with the golden rule…this is our #1 rule for a happy marriage.
Rule #1: The Golden Rule
We are all familiar with the golden rule. It’s stated in different ways, but it boils down to two basic concepts. One is stated in the negative. The other is positive.
Let’s start with the negative. Perhaps you’ve heard it like this:
Don’t do anything to anyone that you would not want done to you.
This rule keeps you from behaving in ways that hurt your partner. If you do not want something done (or said) to you, then don’t do or say it to your spouse.
The positive version goes like this:
Do unto others what you want to be done to you.
It’s the same, but different.
The first deals with what you DO NOT want. The latter address what you do want.
For example, if you want respect, give respect. If you want appreciation, give appreciation.
It’s not complicated, yet so many couples violate this simple rule. The end result is they do not have the relationship they should (and could) have and married life has become something they regret. This doesn’t have to be the case.
Rule #2: Taking Responsibility Empowers Me To Change Things
Years ago I read a statement by Jack Canfield (co-author of the ‘Chicken Soup For The Soul’ series of books). One of his success principles is:
Until you are willing to take 100% responsibility for your life, you will not see the change you desire to see (you will not succeed).Jack Canfield
Are you saying that I am responsible for everything that happens to me? Of course not.
But I am saying you are responsible for what you do with what happens to you. There is a difference.
Taking responsibility means I own my life and realize that what I do with it (along with my marriage) rests on me and no one else. It means that I can’t blame someone else for where I am in life. I am here because of the choices I made (see rule #3 below).
This is not meant to ‘blame the victim.’ If you are experiencing domestic violence, it is not your fault. There is no reason or excuse for someone to abuse or hurt another person (especially someone they vowed to love and cherish). There is absolutely no excuse for that behavior. My advice is to leave.
Maybe you are thinking: ‘What if my partner doesn’t want to change or work on our relationship? How can I be responsible for that?’
You are not responsible for their behavior but must take responsibility for what you do next. I hope you see (understand) the principle.
Even if your spouse doesn’t want to work on the relationship, there are things YOU can do to move the marriage forward. Is it fair? No. Both parties should be willing to invest in the marriage. But that is not always the case. So you have a choice. There are things you can do.
Side note: If you are in a relationship and you feel like you are the only one trying to make it work, Lee Baucom’s ‘Save The Marriage System’ is a great place to start. It will give you practical steps you can take to help your relationship.
Taking responsibility doesn’t mean you take the blame for everything that is wrong. No. It means you own what happens next. You take responsibility for what you do next.Taking responsibility doesn’t mean you take the blame for everything that is wrong. No. It means you own what happens next. You take responsibility for what you do next. Click To Tweet
For a deep dive into how this works, read ‘How To Create Emotional Safety.’ Especially the section on taking responsibility.
Rule #3: My Choices Determine My Outcome
The choices you make on a daily basis determine the outcome of your life.
Bad choices result in bad experiences. God’s choices lead to good experiences.
I realize that is a simplistic way of looking at life. And I realize there are exceptions. I’m sure you could send me stories (please don’t) of how bad things happen in spite of a good choice. I get it.
But more times than not, your experiences follow your choices. Over the length of your life, this will prove true.
Sure there are times when bad stuff happens for seemingly no reason. We’ve all experienced those events. But they are just that – events. They are not the sum total of your life.
What I’m referring to is the sum of your choices producing the totality of your life.
Perhaps you have heard it said this way:
Destiny is decided by decisions!
I want to drive this home because, in your marriage, your decisions will determine the general direction of your relationship.
If you choose to live selfishly, you will reap the results of those decisions. If you choose to give love, acceptance, forgiveness, and appreciation, you will reap the results of those actions.
This rule supports rule #1 – the golden rule. It is the final harvest of the decisions you make.
Rule #4: Being Flexible Allows Me To Adapt Quickly
Flexibility keeps us from being broken by circumstances, situations, and events that seem out of our control.
This doesn’t mean passively tolerating everything that comes your way. It means refusing to bend when the winds of life blow.
We used to have Bradford Pear trees in our yard. They were beautiful in the springtime. However, they didn’t last. In the first winter ice storm (or high winds of the Spring), the branches broke and the trees split.
This happened because they are not strong trees. They are too rigid, so the wind easily breaks them.
Flexibility is the ability to accept and experience the events of life while keeping not losing sight of the big picture of life. In other words, don’t allow life events to break you. You can do this by learning to roll with the flow.
An Example For Martial Arts
For several years I took martial arts. Flexibility was an important key. Not merely physical flexibility, but learning the skill of a ‘push-pull reaction.’
Think of it this way. Our natural tendency is to pull away when someone tries to pull us toward them. If they push us, we naturally want to resist by pushing back against them.
Flexibility implies we do the opposite. When they push, we pull. We do not resist, but rather move in the direction of the push.
If they pull, we do not pull back, we lean in the direction of the pull.
In martial arts, this actually throws your attacker (aggressor) off balance.
It’s the same with life. Especially marriage. Our natural tendency is to resist the things that happen to us. The key is flexibility. We respond by moving with the situation rather than against it.
Again, I’m not suggesting passivity. Or that your partner is your enemy. It’s important to see the difference.
Flexibility is not tolerating bad things. It is refusing to allow those things to break you by moving in a way that keeps you pliable and bend-able. It’s the ability to diffuse an argument that doesn’t need to happen.
In marriage, this rule keeps you from working against your spouse. It allows you to flow together. When there is a push, you don’t react AGAINST it, you flow with it. When life deals you a pull, you move in the same direction WITH the pull.Flexibility is not tolerating bad things. It is refusing to allow those things to break you by moving in a way that keeps you pliable and bend-able. It's the ability to diffuse an argument that doesn't need to happen. Click To Tweet
What this looks like varies from couple to couple, but the rule needs to be in place so you are always moving in the same direction. Refuse resistance. Embrace flexibility.
Rule #5: Balancing Life Keeps Me From Extremes
Maintaining balance in life is tricky. It demands some form of tension. A give and take that seeks middle ground.
Think back to when you learned to drive a car. I remember teaching my daughter to drive. On the way home from getting her license she was pulled over by a police officer.
It was actually a great experience because it allowed me to teach her what to do in that situation.
She was weaving back and forth so the officer pulled her over. When he learned she was a ‘new’ driver and I was her father, he simply told her to be careful and trusted her into my care. I was grateful.
As we made our way back home, she gradually learned how to keep the tension between ‘going left’ and ‘going right’ in balance. She learned how to easily keep the car in the middle of her lane. It took practice, but by continually recognizing the need for this ‘tension’ it became easier.
This is a great example of how to keep relationships moving in the right direction.
We rarely (in fact I’ve never met a couple) get it down pat all the time. It takes a delicate balancing act to keep life in the proper place.
Living in extremes is deadly. Especially in a relationship.
Extremes create stress and eventually require a move in the opposite direction
When one spouse constantly over-reacts to situations it is difficult to navigate those situations. Overreacting creates an inflated sense of stress.
Realizing the need for balance is the starting place.
For more on creating balance and right priorities discover ‘The Marriage Wheel.’
Final Thoughts On The Rules For A Happy Marriage
It’s not enough to compile a list of things you need to do each day to create a successful and happy relationship. You must understand the ‘why’ behind those actions. If not, the behavior is not built on solid ground.
In this article, we discussed five (5) rules for a happy marriage. These rules are often overlooked and misunderstood. When we embrace these rules, we lay a foundation for building a strong marriage.
This is the foundation for a love-based marriage.
The big question is: How will you apply these rules to your marriage? How can you be like Pete and Laura Wakeman to create your handrails that will help you build the marriage you desire?
These 5 rules are foundations to build your person list on.
- Rule #1: The Golden Rule
- Rule #2: Taking Responsibility Empowers Me To Change Things
- Rule #3: My Choices Determine My Outcome
- Rule #4: Being Flexible Allows Me To Adapt Quickly
- Rule #5: Balancing Life Keeps Me From Extremes
We have resources available to help you create the marriage you desire and deserve.
The Healthy Marriage Quiz
If you want specific help for your marriage, or you want to know your healthy marriage score, take the marriage quiz. You’ll get immediate access with suggestions on how to improve your relationship.
The Healthy Marriage Toolkit
Books, Courses, Programs, and Tools designed to help you create the marriage of your dreams.
Five Simple Steps Marriage Course
Marriage doesn’t have to be complicated. In this 5 part mini-series, you’ll discover practical steps to redesign your marriage.
Healthy Marriage Academy
Our courses will help you build a strong marriage. Each course is designed to meet a specific relationship need.
If you are having serious marriage struggles, we recommend starting with ‘Save the Marriage System‘ by Lee Baucom.