We all live by rules. We carry these around with us, some of them we are aware of, others unconscious. In relationships many of the rules are agreed. Some of the rules are open and explicit, “We take it in turns to wash the dishes…”, others are tacit “When I do ‘X’ I expect you to do ‘Y'”.There should be a book written about rules (A Rulebook! Hah!), because they are so important and yet so overlooked.
Families are full of rules and most operate below our radar. When we leave the place of our upbringing and start our own family unit, we take many of our rules with us, we import them without first examining them for relevance or usefulness. There are also rules about rules, as in “If I do this then he must do that, which in turn means I must then…”. Great for computers, but troublesome for people as they are mostly operating without us realising it.
As if that wasn’t enough, we can get into the habit of making rules to control others. We all know that people operate best when left to decide on their own conduct. Put another way, I’m more likely to obey my own rules than I am to abide by those imposed on my by someone else. Yet, because we have learned that things ‘have to be done according to the rules’, we can unwittingly start to make up rules and applying them to others. These too can be explicit (we tell the other person the rule), but more often they are implicit (we expect something but don’t actually tell the other person what our expectations are). This is even more problematic when we don’t even realise ourselves that we have a rule! (See para 1).
A first point here is that, if we make rules to keep others in line, we’ll also have to make sure that they abide by them. A wise old woman I once knew always used to say “Beware! Whenever you make a rule you’ll have to police it”.
A second point is that it can be useful to examine our own internal rule-book as we may be operating with some unconscious ones that can involve us in a lot of police work and disappointment.