(Excerpted from "The Rules of Love" by Richard Templar)
You've had a long and tiring day. In fact it's been a difficult week. You get home grumpy and irritable, and you need someone to take it out on. Who's there to oblige? Your partner, of course. They are always available, and it's not surprising you're feeling snappy, so what do they expect?
What they might expect is that you'd treat them nicely. If it was a friend standing there as you walked through the door, you'd manage to find it in you to be polite, so why not your partner? After all, they should be the most important person in the world to you, so why don't they get the best treatment?
It's so easy to use your partner as a handy sponge to absorb all your angst and to vent your anger to -- but that doesn't make it right. I've known plenty of couples who are snappy and irritable with each other on a regular basis. Some are even downright rude, simply because they can't be bothered to be nice -- because neither has done anything wrong. None of them have really happy and enviable relationships.
What's wrong with a bit of old-fashioned civility? What became of "please" and "thank you" and "would you mind?" If you want to feel really positive about what you have together, you need to start by being courteous and respectful to each other. Remember your basic manners, and speak with respect and kindness to one another. Fix them their favorite drink or give them a little gift for no reason at all except the best one -- because you love them. Pay them compliments, help them with daunting tasks even if it's not "your job" to put up shelves or do the ironing or unpack the groceries.
After a few months or years together, couples can settle down into a couple personalities, which is greater than the sum of its parts. You do things together, you socialize together, and you find shared interests to follow together.
This is all very lovey-dovey and sweet, but it ignores the fact that you are also separate people. It doesn't matter how much you had in common when you met, your partner has some interests separate from yours. Maybe you met through a passionate hobby and you both want to devote most of your free time to yachting or dog walking or stamp collecting. But even so you may want to concentrate on different aspects of it, or there may be other lesser interests, too.
Your partner needs some time to do their own thing in their own way -- and even on their own. Maybe they want to meet up with their best friends without you there, shut themselves away for an hour or so at a time reading poetry/sewing/fixing outboard motors or become a world expert in pre-1930s Balinese stamps. You need to give them the time and the space to do that without getting jealous or nasty about it.
If you're never out of each other's company, and you both turn into some kind of hybrid creature incorporating bits of both of you, you'll end up losing sight of the person you first fell in love with. That's not going to help your relationship because if that happens, that's when the whole thing loses its sparkle, its magic, and becomes tedious.
Is your partner perfect, then? Mine isn't. I bet yours has got lots of flaws. Do they snore? Are they really messy -- or neurotically tidy? Do they talk too much? Have a short temper? Are they a hopeless cook? Or is it really hard for them to get out of bed to go anywhere? Do they always interrupt when you're talking or do they spend too much time at work?
That's partners for you. They always have their share of faults. You just have to live with it I guess. I know, I know. You've tried talking to them about it, explained how difficult it is to live with, asked them to do something about it. Maybe they've tried, but they're obviously not trying hard enough. Maybe they did for a while and now they've slipped back into their old ways. It's always the same old story, whoever you ask. There's never any shortage of characteristics to moan about.
But wait a minute. If that's true of all partners that means it's true of you and me, too. Yes, that's right, you and I are just as guilty as our partners. There are all those things they tell us irritate them. Do we do anything about it? Of course we don't because they're being unreasonable --- asking us to change our personalities. If they don't like us the way we are, tough. They knew what we were like when they got themselves into this.
Okay, but that has to work both ways. Either we have to accept them the way they are, or we have to do something about all our own faults --- even if we don't personally consider them faults. Or better still, both. We need to set an example by being tolerant of their little quirks and foibles, and by addressing our own.
If you want your partner to hold their head high whenever they're out with you, to feel proud of you, you need to make sure that you always act with
Whether you're dealing with a difficult colleague or your child's teacher, you need to make sure you always act in a way that needs no justification. Of course, this is easy sometimes but sometimes it's a real challenge. If you don't do it, your relationship will suffer.
Your partner should never be expected to cover up for you, make excuses for you, or apologize for you. It's not acceptable to go with them to a social event and then be embarrassingly drunk. It's not okay to ask them to lie to your boss and pretend you're ill when you're not. It's not fine if they are rude to somebody you have to deal with. It's certainly not alright to break the law --- even a minor driving offense --- and then expect your partner to be happy about it.
I know of a couple where the woman is universally adored by all her neighbors, but the husband is avoided like the plague. He interferes, offends, irritates, and is domineering -- and after he has ruffled everybody's feathers, the woman has to try and continue as normal. Now actually all her neighbors feel very sorry for her, as they also hear the way the man treats her and feel she deserves better, but that's not the point. He shouldn't be making her spend half her life apologizing for him (or even cause her to feel embarrassed every time she leaves the house).
No one wants to be associated with someone tactless, unkind, rude, or thoughtless. Certainly that's not a burden you should be placing on your loved one. Your partners own self-esteem will suffer quite a lot.
I know a couple who decided to seize an opportunity to build themselves a house, and he took charge of the work. Half way through the process, she decided -- for entirely valid reasons I won't go into --- that she wasn't at all sure she wanted to live in it when it was complete. He, on the other hand, had put a great deal of effort into it and didn't want to waste it.
Now at this point, a lot of couples would have fallen out badly, but not these two. What was their approach? He said that if she really didn't want to live there, they wouldn't. Meanwhile she took the approach that as he'd put in so much work, she would at least live there for a year or so and then they could sell if she really hated it. So that was their compromise: they'd try it for a while and reconsider if it really wasn't working for her.
The reason they managed to reach this entirely amicable agreement was quite simply because they were both putting the other one before themselves. To do that, of course, they had to really listen to each other and consider the other one's viewpoint. They both had to want the other one to be happy even more than themselves. To put it another way, neither of them could be happy if their partner weren't.
This is absolutely essential to a good, strong relationship. I can't think of a really happy relationship I've ever witnessed where both partners didn't operate this way. You have to put your partner's happiness before your own, you have to be unselfish, you have to put yourself second--otherwise you will have arguments and a stalemate.
How do you show your partner you love them? Do you give them flowers or chocolates? Do you take them out for a meal or cook a special dinner for them? Do you tell them half a dozen times a day, "I love you"? Do they do the same for you?
If you're feeling guilty, just hold on for a minute. I might be about to let you off the hook on this one. I remember talking to a couple of friends once over dinner. They were having a (mostly) friendly banter about the fact that -- according to her --- he hardly ever showed that he loved her. He replied, "That's not fair. What about all those morning cups of coffee I make you? What about the weekends when I mind the kids? What about the times I wash your car?" She was firm in her response: "That's not romantic. Those are just favors." He looked completely baffled, and asked, "But why do you think I do them?"
We have a very narrow idea of what constitutes a romantic gesture. Flowers, chocolates, dinner, and saying "I love you." Those are the obvious ones. In fact there is an infinite number of ways to show someone you love them. Every little thing they do that they didn't have to, that they only did because they wanted to please you, is their way of saying, "I love you."
If you want to know how much your partner cares, don't just focus on flowers and chocolates. (Although those are fine too, at least in my book.) Think about the last time they changed the sheets when it wasn't their turn, fetched you an aspirin when you were feeling ill, or made a phone call for you because youdidn't have the energy. If those mundane, banal, unromantic-sounding things aren't gestures of love, what the hell are they? What was the point of doing them?
If you learn to recognize these signs for what they are, not only will your partner feel their love is appreciated, but you'll also feel even more secure and happy after you realize that every cup of coffee is just a secret code for "I love you."
Grown-ups don't have fights. Sure they argue, they disagree, they debate. Indeed they express their feelings and say when they're hurt or angry or upset. But they don't have the kind of fights that require an apology to get over them.
Oh, alright then, we do. But that doesn't make it right. From time to time we forget to do the, "When you say…I feel…" thing we all know we should, and we behave childishly instead. Don't worry; we all do it. I expect they started it anyway.
The big question is, having had it out with the person we love, which isn't what we wanted to do of course, what are we going to do about it? The answer -- as you may have guessed from the title of this Rule --- is to say you are sorry and to say it before they do.
How do you feel about saying you're sorry? You can't understand why you should? Do you feel that you've lost face, been humiliated, or had to swallow your pride? Well don't. You're a Rules Player and you're big, strong, confident, and self-assured enough to do it. I'm not asking you to say you're sorry publicly in front of 500 people. This is just a private apology to your very nearest and dearest. A Rules Player can manage to do this.
What are you apologizing for? Isn't it hypocritical to say you are sorry when you truly feel you were in the right? No it isn't because that's not why you are saying you are sorry. You're apologizing for allowing a perfectly valid discussion about a difference of views to degenerate to this point. It takes two to argue, and you're apologizing for being childish and letting it happen -- and for all the mistakes you must have made to reach that point.
You should be a lot of things to your partner: friend, lover, companion, confidant(e), ally, comforter. One thing you shouldn't be is their parent. They're a grown-up and they don't need one of those any more, at least not beyond any they've already got.
Your partner is an independent and mature person who can run their own life. They choose to spend it with you, for which I hope you are properly grateful. They don't need anyone else to tell them how to run it. So don't let me catch you telling your partner, "Take those muddy shoes off before you come in here," or "You haven't eaten much. Go on -- at least finish your vegetables," or "You know, you don't exercise enough. You should join the gym."
These are all actions or decisions they are capable of taking for themselves. I'm not saying you should never express an opinion, but there's no need to tell them what they should do. It's just your opinion, Okay? So express it as a point of view and not as an instruction.
I'll tell you what will happen if you do this, because I've seen it happen to couples I know. If you act like a parent to your partner, they will respond in one of two ways. The first option is that they will respond like a child. They will meekly do as you tell them and allow you to become their parent. This might seem to work at first, but in fact it will destroy the equality in your relationship. When you want someone to look after you, they won't seem like the right person any more. They'll expect you to solve all their problems for them, which you won't always be able to do. So you'll both be disappointed and frustrated. That's hardly a recipe for a happy relationship.
The alternative is that they'll act like a rebellious teenager and quite rightly push against your attempts to parent them. This will lead to arguments and conflict as they resent and resist you.
Go on then, what annoys you about your partner? There's got to be loads of things. Come on, what can you think of, off the top of your head? Let's see --- do they always sing along to your favorite music out of tune? Do they change channels on the TV without asking you first? Take phone messages for you and then forget to pass them on? Put the greasy butter knife straight down on the table? Interrupt you when you're in mid-sentence? Snore? Throw away the toothpaste before it's really empty? I bet there are loads of little things that wind you up.
I've never met anyone who didn't annoy their partner in some kind of little way or other. It's unavoidable. Of course, we need to be tolerant and we can't ask them to change their personality but I mean, honestly, do they have to bang the front door so loudly? Or let the dog into the kitchen when it's still wet from its walk?
It's amazing how such little things can really get to you. If you're finding it impossible to be tolerant, it's much better to let your partner know how you feel than to get increasingly frustrated and irritated. After all if you don't tell them, how would they know. It's probably never dawned on them that they're being annoying.
There is one important rule though -- always use humor to let your partner know what bugs you. My wife and I have developed a system whereby every time she says, "By the way, for future reference…" I know I'm about to get into trouble for something I didn't know I was doing. Because she always usesthe same phrase it's become a standing joke, so she always says it with a smile, and I always reply, "Whatever it was, I'm sorry. So what have I done now?"
I'd just like to say before we get beyond the title of this Rule, that I'm not talking about instances where you know for a fact that your partner is cheating on you. In that case jealousy is understandable and justified. What this Rule is about is feeling jealous every time your partner is away from home, out on their own, late from work, and so on. Maybe you've even been tempted to go through their emails or sneak a look at the calls on their cell phone. (What? You've already done it? Tsk tsk.)
Jealousy is one of the most corrosive things in a relationship. I've seen it destroy otherwise excellent partnerships. When the partner who is the object of such suspicion is in fact innocent, they feel angry and resentful at not being trusted, and rightly so. Your partner is innocent until proven otherwise, and you must trust them.
There are all sorts of reasons why you may be jealous, most of which will have something to do with your own history. The thing to understand is that it's you who needs to address your jealousy. It's not your partner's job to tell you where they are all the time and keep handing over their cell phone for inspection.
Every problem is a shared one, and your partner will -- I hope --- want to help resolve this. No matter what they do, it won't satisfy you if you're inherently jealous. You'll suspect them of deleting texts before they hand over the phone, and you'll think of every 10-minute stretch you couldn't account for their whereabouts. Nope, the only thing that will sort this out is for you to deal with why you feel irrationally jealous. You might be able to do this for yourself or with friends, or you may want to talk to your doctor or a counselor. Choose whatever method works for you, but you must deal with it or you'll end up with no partner to be jealous of.
This can be so hard if you get bogged down in work and kids a few years into your relationship, but that's when it's most important. The less time there is for romance, the more you need it.
You can't expect the passion and the excitement in your relationship to last if you've abandoned the romance. That's the bit that stokes the fires, so you need to find some way to keep it going. Flowers and romantic dinners for two in glamorous restaurants are great, but the time and the budget may not stretch that far. So you're going to have to get a bit more inventive. Come on, you know your partner well enough by now to have a pretty good idea how to romance them.
If you can get out of the house and away from the kids, why not go for a romantic woodland walk or a picnic in the park? If you live in a tourist area, why not go on one of those tourist boat trips or have an evening at the fair? It can be very romantic if you both get into the spirit.
Between those possibly rare excursions out of the house, there are plenty of ways of being romantic at home. The simplest (and cheapest) of them involves whispering sweet nothings and holding hands on the couch. How about having your dinner in the garden or on the balcony? Cook a favorite meal -- it doesn't have to be fancy -- and maybe put a cloth on the table or break out the best glasses, and have your romantic dinner for two.
You have to treat your partner fairly in a relationship, or you haven't got an equal relationship. If you love them, this is one of the most basic ways to show it. Regardless of your background, education, and culture, the only fair thing is for both of you to put an equal amount of time and effort into running your lives.
In other words, no lounging around with your feet up when you get in from work while your partner gets the dinner ready. No sleeping in every morning while they get up with the kids. You should both put in the same amount of work. That means if you both get up together in the morning, no one stops working until everything is done and then you both stop at once. So, if you get home from work and your partner is busy cooking, take over from them, or get some housework done, or put the kids to bed, but don't put your feet up until they can join you.
Of course, you don't have to divide everything exactly, you can do whatever you prefer. In our household, I do all the washing while my wife does all the shopping. It suits us both that way. I get up first, but I generally need quite a few little breaks from the kids on a bad day (bit of a short fuse), whereas she gets up a bit later but then just keeps on going when I need to disappear for a few minutes. I might relax while she's finishing a few chores early evening, but that's because at the end of the evening I do the late-night chores (letting the dog out, loading the dishwasher) while she heads straight for bed. So we don't do exactly the same things, but we both feel happy that the division of labor is equal on balance, and neither of us feels used or abused.
I've heard certain people -- almost always men I might add --- patiently explain that they're earning all the money and working at a tough job all day while their partner is just staying home with the kids. This constitutes much more effort, and therefore it's only fair that their partner does more in the evenings and weekends. They need more rest after all that effort.
If this is your attitude, let me tell you something. I've done a lot of things in my time, including both hard physical work and exhausting creative-thinking type jobs. I've been the sole breadwinner and I've been in a relationship where I earned only a proportion of the household income. I've also done my share of staying at home all day with the kids. I can tell you which job is the toughest by a million miles, and it isn't going out and earning the money.
Now I know lots of people who would argue with this Rule. Just remember that this book isn't about what I think you ought to do, it's about what works. I've seen lots of couples argue about money -- in many cases it's contributed to break-ups -- but I've never seen it happen in a relationship where the finances were separate. I'm only telling you what I've observed.
There's really no need at all to pool your money. It doesn't achieve anything useful. Okay, there's often a case for having a joint account that you both pay into (from your separate finances) to pay for shared things, such as the children's clothes or the monthly bills. You'll need to agree right at the start how much you each contribute -- half and half may not be fair if one of you earns much more than the other or uses the phone more.
That's just a technicality. If you both earn money, you will both need to cover the expenses according to whatever arrangement you agree. You may want to put money into a kitty for shared luxuries like a holiday. Beyond that, your money is your own. So, if your partner wants to blow all their savings on something you consider wasteful, that's their business. It doesn't affect you. The bills have been paid this month, and it's their money. You can save yours, or invest in something sensible, or spend it all onsweets if you want to. See? No arguments.
Before you ask, this can still work if you earn an unequal amount, or if only one of you earns. Broadly speaking, the best arrangement if your earnings are very different is that you contribute to joint costs proportionately. If one of you earns double, you contribute twice as much to the pot, or you pay equally toward bills but the high earner pays for evenings out or for vacations. You can sort out the details between you.
If one of you is working all day in the home and with the kids, and therefore not earning anything, the other partner needs to give them a fair share of the money that's left over after the bills are paid. (Personally I'd suggest half of it.) This is not a generous gift or a favor, but is fair payment for the contribution the nonworking partner makes to the partnership. One of you earns the money, and one of you looks after the house. You're swapping a share of the earnings for a share in the meals, the clean house,and the kids. If one partner wasn't pulling their weight in the house, the other couldn't have earned that money, so it's joint income and should be divvied up accordingly. After that has been done, you can each keep your share in a separate bank account.
You know that feeling you get when you first fall in love? Weak at the knees, stomach churning, can't think about anything else? It's great, isn't it? On the other hand, it puts you on an emotional roller coaster that makes almost everything else, from work to eating, really quite difficult.
Some people get addicted to it. They just don't feel alive unless they're "in love." Of course, relationships don't stay like that. Sooner or later you become confident and sure enough of your partner not to worry and fret, and you get used to having them around so you don't jump at the sound of the phone. So if you're addicted to falling "in love," you'll have to keep ditching your partners and finding new people to fall for.
You may be wondering why I keep putting quotation marks around "in love." Well, there are two reasons. The first is that you don't have to be in love to have this feeling, and you may be misled. It might actually be lust or infatuation and not love at all. The other reason is that I don't want to imply that if you don't have this feeling, you aren't in love with your partner.
There are very good reasons why this heightened emotional state doesn't last forever. You couldn't function, and the state has a lot to do with nerves and excitement, and after a while your relationship will inevitably stop making you nervous and cease to be as exciting as it was. You can still do exciting things together, but the relationship itself will become routine, hopefully in the very best of ways.
So what do you end up with if you stick out the relationship past the point where you can't sleep at night and can't think about anything else? Well, that varies. For some people what's left isn't really worth having. For those people who have a combination of luck, good judgment, and a grasp of the Rules, what you can end up with if all goes really well is contentment.
Contentment isn't about fireworks and weak knees and butterflies. This is why some people completely fail to realize that despite its more subtle charm, contentment is worth a whole lot more than short-term passion. Being content with someone doesn't mean you're no longer "in love." It means you are truly and deeply in love in the best sense without any quotation marks.
So don't get hooked on getting that fix of first "love." Concentrate on making sure that you follow the Rules so that as the first flush slowly dies down, it is replaced by something that is more rewarding, companionable, warm, fulfilling, and loving. When that happens don't think about what you have lost but about what you've gained. That's contentment -- and you should be more than happy with it.