The Magic of Rules

The Magic of Rules

By Janet Joyce

“Pick a card. Any card,” said the magician to the crowd clustering around him on the Pearl Street Mall. “Who wants to step up and pick a card?” Everyone passing by on that warm, sunny day knew exactly what would happen if they volunteered. They would be tricked, or they’d see some slight of hand or something to astonish and surprise.

As I observed the growing crowd I saw their faces react in a variety of ways, ranging from anticipation and delight to skepticism and doubt. I began to think about how much this situation has in common with the nature of our human relationships.

Every relationship you have, from those you hold dear to your most casual acquaintances, has rules about how you interact. And even though very few of us have ever sat down with our spouses, friends, and colleagues to have detailed conversations about how these rules evolved, they most certainly did. On their own, as if by magic.

The Rules You Live By

For instance, let’s say that you are married. In your relationship you have rules about such things as who is in charge of financial decisions, who drives when you go out together, how much affection you display in public, how to resolve arguments, how to know when a phone conversation is winding down, and even who gets up in the middle of the night with the baby.

But you also have rules about more subtle and more important things, such as how you treat each other, how respectful you are when you disagree, how you speak about each other to your friends or family, and whether or not you will divulge personal information about each other.

You have different arrangements for your relationships with your friends or business associates, but they all involve rules of one kind or another. So the question is, who made these rules?

Most of the time when I ask this of the couples in my clinical practice, they stare at me or at each other and then say, “We don’t know.”

The answer is: you did. You made the rules, and they are solidly in place. But most likely you never had a conversation about what they would be, how they’d be implemented, or how to change them when they aren’t working well. It all happens, seemly by magic. And as if by magic, everyone knows pretty much what to expect.

So, How Does This Happen?

When we are children, we grow up with lots of rules. Rules we didn’t have any say in. Rules in school, in church, at the park, on your bike, with your friends, and at home with your family. When we are kids, we don’t think much about how the rules get created, and we mostly don’t question whether or not we can change those rules.

So, when you go on to create your own adult relationships, you bring with you the expectation that these things happen by magic, and that the relationships you create will either closely resemble the ones you grew up in, or they’ll be pretty much the exact opposite (You know what I mean if as a kid you said to yourself, “I’ll never do XYZ when I grow up.”).

What Kind of Rules Do You Want?

Any spiritual endeavor requires you to make deliberate choices and to pay special attention to the process by which your inner growth unfolds. Taking this same deliberate care of your interactions with others is essential for moving your relationships to a deeper and more sacred place.

This may seem like a radical concept, but it is truly the power of creation at your finger-tips. Think about it. You have the awareness, the choice, the right and even the responsibility to have an open conversation with your life partners (spouse, friends, children and even parents) that begins something like this; “What kind of rules do you think we should have in this relationship?”

Even if you feel positively about your more mature relationships you can have the same conversation beginning with, “Gee, we’ve been together for a while now. What are the rules of this relationship?” And then once you have identified what they are, you can decide together—openly, honestly, with humor if possible—what you want those rules to be.

You don’t need to base the rules for your relationship on anyone else’s, or on any preconceived ideas, or on anything you may have brought with you from your childhood (unless you feel it would be beneficial). Instead you simply need to share a common goal of true and mutual creation.

How to Make Your Own Rules

There are two simple ground rules for creation in your relationship. 1) the rules have to be mutually agreeable, and 2) they have to be rules that don’t hurt anyone. That’s it. Beyond that, it’s all up to you.

Here’s an exercise you can do to get started with this process.

  1. Sit quietly for a few moments and consider what assumptions you have, what preconceived ideas you carry, what roles you may think you need to fulfill, and what your world view may dictate.
  2. Write down a paragraph or two that addresses these issues.
  3. Then write down three or four rules that would be helpful in your relationship.
  4. Take the time to have an open and honest conversation with your partner about what you have written.
  5. Most of all, try to have some fun with it.

Once the magician shows you how the trick is done, there’s nothing mystifying about it.

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