Chapter 16 – Relationship Rules

Over the first couple of weeks of our relationship, Bonnie and I were spending a lot of time together. I had such a crush on her that it was starting to scare me a bit. Though probably too soon, I couldn’t help but start the DTR (Define The Relationship) talk.

“So, exactly what are we?” I asked her.

“Wow. Time for the DTR already?” she responded with a smile.

“DTR?” I said in confusion as I had been out of the dating scene for the better part of a decade.

“DTR. The let’s Define The Relationship talk. Yeah, we can have it. It’s pretty simple for me. I’m not seeing anyone else. When we met, I wasn’t trying to see anyone at all, so you’re an exception. We’re exclusive as far as I’m concerned.”

Talk about an awesome response! With confidence and maturity, she just laid it all out there and put my mind at ease. To which I responded:
“Um, yeah, me too.”

Then she followed up with something that really caught me off guard:
“Before we go any further, let’s get one thing straight – I’m just going to put it out there: We’re both terrible at relationships.”

“Excuse me?!” I fired back. “How do you figure?”

“Well, you’re divorced and I’m still single. If we were so good at relationships, neither of us would be here right now. So, rather than think we have it all figured out, I think we should start off by acknowledging that neither of us are very good at this whole relationship deal.”

And that was our first relationship rule:

1. Be humble. We’re terrible at relationships.

Over the years, we’ve come up with these other rules that help to keep us on track.

2. Love is not a currency.

In Don Miller’s book “Blue Like Jazz”, he talks about the difference between unconditional love and using love as a currency that we trade in order to get what we want. From the beginning, Bonnie and I decided that our love should be given, without condition, and regardless of how the other person responds. If there were conditions on our love, we figured it was best to keep that to ourselves.

3. No projecting.

Each of us carry more relationship baggage than a Boeing 747. Whether it originated from our relationships with our parents or our exes, we carry it around with us everywhere and it often times influences our relationships with others. As such, Bonnie and I had to very clearly address this baggage and agree that though we had each been hurt in the past, it was not fair or productive to subconsciously project the blame of those hurts on to each other. In short, we consciously stated that she’s not my ex-wife and I’m not her Dad.

4.  Say “I heard”, not “You said”.

In any relationship, miscommunication is inevitable.  Unfortunately, usually due to our own sinful pride, this interaction regularly turns into “You said x” and “No, you said y”.  Eventually, this back and forth disagreement turns into a heated exchange where blame must be assigned and accepted.  At this point, what was a simple, unintentional, misunderstanding has turned into an argument where accusations are full of implied malicious intent. 

So, rather than continue going through the same tired motions and in light of the fact that we’re both terrible at relationships (see Rule #1), Bonnie and I decided to approach this from a place of humility.  Instead of starting with “You said x”, we choose to start our miscommunications with “I heard x”, which immediately removes all accusations from the conversation and puts focus on the actual miscommunication.  “Yes baby, I’m sure you did say that we were supposed to meet at 4pm, unfortunately I heard 5pm.”  And with that, we both accept that miscommunications happen and we refrain from blaming each other over something that is literally a “he said / she said” case that can’t be proven anyway.  Sure, somebody messed up, but we know it wasn’t intentional and this way we don’t make it into a bigger deal than it is.

5.  I’ll do anything for you, except…

I love Bonnie and will do anything I can to make her happy.  Knowing this, there is, however, one thing that she is not allowed to ask me to do:  I absolutely refuse to try and “read her mind’.  Sure, I should know that Thursday is garbage day and that I need to take out the trash…  But I forget sometimes.  If you ask me to take out the trash, I promise I will gladly do it!  But giving me “attitude” in an effort to make me remember or decipher what you are mad about is absolutely unacceptable.  From that perspective, I tell Bonnie regularly (and she accepts):  

“I will go to the ends of the earth for you and do anything I can to make you the happiest woman in the world, just don’t ask me to read your mind.”

It really is a great compromise!

6.  You can have anything you want…

I gave up my corporate job years ago and with it went the high dollar salary and expense account.  Even so, I still take the responsibility of providing for my wife and family’s financial needs (and wants) very seriously.  To that extent, the money rule in our house is very simple:  

“You can have ANYTHING you want, you just can’t EVERYTHING you want.”

$300.00 Jeans?  No problem.  Concert tickets?  You bet! Vacations? Sounds like a blast!  Oh, you want groceries too? And electricity?  Something has to give…  So we agree to get everything we “need” and we pick and choose the things we really “want”, and the rest we live without (and hardly even notice).

So far, Bonnie and I have been together for the past eight years. Over that time, I can’t remember having more than one or two major disagreements. We have small disagreements all the time, but because we follow these rules, the disagreements stay small as opposed to growing into something more.