The Rule of Personal Responsibility
Couples have to not only take responsibility for their actions, but also for their thoughts pertaining to their spouse. When couples simply blame their partner without taking responsibility for their own actions, wounds begin to form. However, once we take responsibility for our own part in the problem, we can begin to see the process outside of the content. The process is what the actual problem is, not the outcome that came from the process. For example, partner A places blame on partner B, then retreats. As partner B retreats, partner A places blame on partner B, and pursues. The blame builds because neither partner understands the cycle they have entered. Partner A cannot understand why partner B will not leave them alone to think, and partner B cannot understand why partner A does not want to talk to them about the issue. It is an endless cycle until we begin to understand the process we prefer, while also understanding the preference of their partner. Once we can take responsibility for our preferred process and our partner’s preferred process, compromise and integration of both preferences can begin.
The I’ll Change First Rule
Relationships are a partnership, but also include two individuals. Each individual has to put effort into the process of change. However, if both partners wait for the other to make the first move, both partners will be waiting indefinitely. The “I’ll Change First” rule is simply breaking the cycle of waiting, taking responsibility for their own actions, and deciding to make changes without the caveat of equal action of both at the same exact time. This rule is about taking control of our decisions, and eliminating the control of others over our personal decisions to make changes in our quest for happiness.
The Baby Steps Rule
It is not always about huge, major changes to our daily lives. By making a small tweak to our actions, behaviors, and/or thoughts, we can begin the process of change. As we repeat behaviors and actions, we strengthen that neural pathway in our brains, and over time it becomes second nature; action A always leads to action B, thought A always leads to thought B, behavior A always leads to behavior B. With a small shift, we can disrupt the system inside of us. Imagine millions of drops of water running through a pipe, and a small shift to the drops of water that run along the right side of the pipe creates a small puncture hole to the pipe. Slowly drops of water on the right side of the pipe decide to take the path through that small puncture hole. Over time, those drops of water widen the hole, and more drops are allowed to change directions. Within a system, any shift whether big or small, will ripple through the system. Each time that small shift repeats, a longer and larger ripple begins to build. After a while, the end of that ripple is a big shift into change. In the example of the water flowing through a pipe, the big shift is two paths the millions of drops of water could take instead of only one path. By taking small baby steps, big changes will eventually take root.
The Feelings Follow Behaviors Rule
Behaviors and feelings are correlated, but we can choose to change our behaviors in order to change the feelings of another, which ultimately affects the outcome of the response behavior. For example, when you feel unappreciated and unloved, you are much less likely to behave in a loving manner towards another. Instead, you are more likely to enact your defense mechanisms within your behavior. You make a choice to protect yourself, and act accordingly. If we can decrease the defensiveness and choose behaviors that are in line with feeling loved, the reciprocal behaviors will bring those feelings of love. This rule is an extension, and explanation of, the “I’ll Change First” rule. Change your behavior to change the behavior of your spouse, which then transforms your reactionary feelings from their behavior. For example, every morning partner A goes to work angry and frustrated because they fight with their spouse. One morning, once again, partner B made a pot of coffee and drank it all by the time partner A goes to the kitchen to get a cup of coffee. Instead of choosing to speak negatively to partner B, they simply choose to refrain from negative talk, start a fresh pot, and offer partner A the first cup of the fresh pot. By the time they both leave for work, partner B has found things to do that were helpful to partner A, the negative interactions that usually plagued the beginning of the day were eliminated, and each spouse started their day with peaceful feelings as a result from the morning interactions. At the end of the work day, each partner returns home without the negative feelings that lingered from the morning interaction.
The Fear of Change Rule
As we age, we gain insight and intuition into the world around us. We learn to gauge and predict the responses of others, especially those intertwined in our lives. Spouses know their partners. They know when they will be upset and when they will be happy by our actions. It is the unknown that creates the crippling type of fear that prevents us from making changes. It is easy to know what to expect. It is easy to accept crippled areas of life in order to avoid the possibility of something worse happening. The problem is the fear. The fear prevents positive growth by blocking change because of the possibility of something worse than the usual behavior. At first, it will feel unnatural because the conditioned behavior/response has become the norm. It takes time to rid ourselves of preconceived notions of change, but in the end, both parties will be able to walk upright with comfort and ease instead of fear and discomfort.
The Present Rule
Being present is difficult when we are hurt, especially when we expect negativity. It is easier to do everything possible to get through the day, only to start a new day the same way we left the previous one. The Present Rule is about being present in the situation, avoiding our desire to avoid unpleasant situations, unpleasant emotions, and unpleasant truths of others. However, the only way to create positive change is to be present in the moment, to make choices, and to live through it. Doing everything in our power to illicit change revitalizes our power over our own lives.
The Rule of Irreversibility
We all have an alter ego that we generally can keep under control. However, when emotions are running high, we are less in control and more irrational. That is when our “shadow” is likely to emerge. In the heat of the moment, we may say things that we would not usually say, yet hold some truth that is undeniable. You can apologize and hope for forgiveness, but it is impossible to take back the words, and reverse the situation. What’s done is done, and the spouse has to find a way to move past the hurtful words. It is important that we think before we speak, especially when emotions are running high, and try to be productive with our words. Compromise can generally get both parties what they want without anyone getting upset.
The Rule of Recall and Attribution
As we experience life, our memories can be categorized using a bell curve. The middle and largest region of the curve is neutral where the majority of our interactions fall. On the far right are the positive memories and experiences, and the far left are the negative ones. Unfortunately, we recall more of the bad experiences than the good ones. As we recall those events, attributions from that experience are then attached to the spouse, establishing a negative view of the spouse. It is important to understand where are negative feelings towards our spouse are coming from, increase the presence of positive memories, and work to change our perception of who we married.