Love, Self

20 Marriage "Rules" I've Learned From Being A Psychotherapist

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From my experience as a psychotherapist for 30 years and a married man for over 20 years, I think of these rules as everything a couple must learn for an ongoing, happy relationship. If you are unhappy in your marriage or current relationship, print these out, post them to the fridge and start to act on them. Though some of them may seem quite simplistic and/or impossible, I promise that if you follow them to the best of your ability, your misery level will go down precipitously and you will remember what it is like to be in love with your mate. 

1. Practice these daily: compassion, understanding, respect and empathy. If you are not using one of these you are off track. And here are some other tips/rules of healthy relationships that I have learned throughout the years:

2. Fight fair. No yelling, name-calling, sarcasm, bringing up past grievances (stick to the topic at hand) or hitting below the belt. Never throw things at or near the other person. With anger, don't repress it, but don't let it out immediately, either. Find out what is causing the anger, cool down and then talk about what you are feeling. 

3. Know the difference between criticism and a complaint. A criticism is a negative assessment of your behavior that is telling you that you have done something wrong, which causes the person to become defensive. A complaint is telling the other person what you want and need moving forward. Complaints are positive and about the future; criticism is negative and about the past. We can't change the past but we can succeed in the future. There is no such thing as constructive criticism between couples.

4. Avoid contempt, blaming or shaming.

5. Be on the lookout for defensiveness.

6. Turn off the negativity. Accentuate the positive.

7. Don't shut down. Refuse to engage in stonewalling or turning away from your partner for longer than twenty minutes. Then come back to the table.

8. Don't play the victim role or the perpetrator.

9. Take time to discuss what you want and need from each other. Create a values based relationship. If you agree on your basic values, you can navigate the conflicts better.

10. Be tender in all your interactions.

11. Keep your promises.

12. Develop and nurture a good sense of humor. That includes laughing at yourself when you screw up!

13. Acknowledge what your partner is saying before you say your piece.

14. Show appreciation when your partner does something nice for you.

15. Be responsible for yourself, your health and your messes.

16. Be considerate. Put your partner's needs first at least half of the time.

17. Own your part in a problem, even if you think it is 98% and 2%. You can still own your 2%.

18. Make a commitment to do relationship work. Be a part of the solution.

19. Remember that Connection (with a capital "C") is your top priority.

20. Practice loving kindness. Remember that you can't always be right ... but you can always be kind.


The following was given to GalTime with permission by Dr. Bill Cloke, expert in couples and marriage therapy.

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