Peace can hinge on relationship rules: With Love by Simran Mangharam

As we wean ourselves off traditional gender roles, couples can sometimes find that their partnership ends up lacking structure. What do you do when you don’t agree on something? How do you navigate money matters? It helps to frame their own relationship rules — address core issues head-on and determine how you would like them to be resolved. You may not always be able to follow the ideal path you lay down, but it can certainly help you navigate the tangles. Here is a shortlist drawn from my personal and professional experience.

Some of the most successful rules I know of are variations of the no-screens norm. For some couples, it’s no phones after 8 pm. For others, it’s no screens (Netflix included) at dinner. The big thing this kind of rule does is create space for conversation — talking and listening. The latter, especially, is a dying art and that really hurts relationships, especially at a time when most of us aren’t meeting a lot of people outside the home. No-screens norms also create more time and mindspace for intimacy.

Another tried and true rule: don’t go to bed mad at each other. If it’s a problem you cannot resolve there and then, try and agree to put it on hold, address it at a fixed future date (don’t use this rule to brush things under the carpet), and find your way back to at least talking to each other before bed. I can tell you from experience that this one helps immensely.

Make room for a weekly date. It can be Friday nights or Saturday afternoon brunches; a movie at home or an evening at the park. This will become something you can look forward to together, even when things are hard. It’ll keep the spark alive amid the hurly burly of the everyday. It’s harder, but even more vital, for people with kids. I know of couples who’d rather miss a party with friends than compromise this precious us-time.

Balance the accounts. Whether you are a one- or two-income home, talk about the spending before it becomes a flashpoint. Money is a relationship issue; people who pretend it isn’t only succeed in making it the kind of issue that rankles, leaves you alternately sulking and fuming. A simple way out is to set up a common account you can both contribute to and access within set parameters.

When one person is done at a party or event, leave. If you arrived together, leave together. I can’t tell you how untrue it is when the other person says, “No I don’t mind staying a while longer” or “Okay I’ll find my own way home”. They do mind, they’re not okay, and this is the kind of thing that snowballs and eventually reaches my office. If you’re in a relationship you want to nurture, don’t get on this slippery slide. No party is worth it.

Respect each other’s parents. Be polite. Talk through your issues, if and when they crop up. Negotiate, if you happen to be living together. Never act out of disrespect. It’s another slippery slope that only ends in puddles of tears.

The last and perhaps most valuable rule is, give yourselves me-time. Plan getaways you can take alone or with friends; set aside a day every once in a while that’s just about you. Dance, knit, create origami dolls — whatever floats your boat. You’ll return to your routine rejuvenated, appreciating your partner more. And it’ll give you time to miss them — a vital tonic that every relationship needs.

If these work for you, fantastic. If not, huddle up and frame your own rules. Expect an argument or two to break out (“What do you mean we should have no screens after 8 pm?!!”). Just be sure to make up before bedtime.

(Simran Mangharam is a dating and relationship coach and can be reached on [email protected])

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