Play by the Rules!


Play by the Rules!
Making rules for your partner means you've cast yourself as the parent and your partner as the kid.

"Don't talk to single people at parties."  "Mention within the first five minutes of a conversation that you have a partner."  "Don't notice other attractive people when you're with me."

Do you have rules for your partner?  When one half of a couple makes rules for the couple, look out!  Parents make rules for children, so the person who's making the rules has cast him or herself as the parent and the partner as the child. Why would either partner find this satisfying?


Rules equal safety

The partner in the rule-making “parent” role believes that he or she has a monopoly on what’s right or better and that the other partner will be better off doing things by the rules. This rule-maker feels in control, therefore safe, with rules. Everything will go according to his or her plan. One of the many problems inherent in this idea is this:  Life is not that neat and predictable.  Another problem is that rule-making doesn’t leave room for the other partner to have a difference of opinion.

Accepting someone for who they are and dictating who they must be are two different things. The first is a hallmark of adulthood: You either love the person for who they are, or if you can’t tolerate their behavior/style/values/whatever, you go your separate ways. Staying and complaining or making rules about how they should be is infantile. The other person has a right to be who they are.  And the rule-maker has the right to make rules. But someone who hears rules and agrees to them needs to look at why they would agree to be the child in the relationship.

Rules are made to be dependently followed or rebelliously broken

The partner who’s been cast in the “child” position will either behave like a dependent, compliant child, following all the rules and afraid of angering or disappointing the other partner and losing love, or will behave like a rebellious adolescent, breaking the rules at will in the “parent’s” face or sneakily. Neither behavior is adult functioning! A person who functions as an adult will hear a set of rules and run the other way, because it’s not satisfying to be treated as a child when one is a chronological adult.

Beyond rules

So is there satisfying life beyond rules? Yes! Adults don’t set rules in reasonable relationships. They consider each other, honor their commitments, and handle themselves with integrity, not because they will get in trouble with “Mommy” or “Daddy” if they don’t, but because autonomy and integrity feel good. It’s about making a decision they can live with, not blindly, resentfully, or rigidly following someone else’s rules to avoid being put on relationship probation.

This article was originally published at . Reprinted with permission.
Article contributed by

Diane Spear, LCSW-R


Diane Spear, LCSW-R, is a NYC-based psychotherapist who helps couples and individuals throughout the world find the joy in everyday life! She has been in practice since 1995, working with older adolescents up through older adults. Check out her website at to learn more about her therapy and counseling practice and couples and relationship therapy; and be sure to read her blog.

Connect with Diane through email here, or call 212-353-0296


Location: New York, NY
Credentials: LCSW-R
Specialties: Anxiety Issues, Couples/Marital Issues, Life Transitions
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