Tag Archives: tradition

Are You in a Relationship With a Rule Maker?


One of the constants that couples may have to fight within themselves is the tendency to become parental or the “rule maker” in their relationship. Sometimes these rules are overt when they are presented as commands: “Don’t turn on the television immediately when you walk through the door from work!” Other rules are covert or unspoken and you don’t know about them until you break them: “How could you leave hair in the bathroom sink?”

Making rules can be a big intimacy destroyer in a relationship.

Often the rule maker also appoints themselves the rule enforcer. Since they made up the rules, they feel like they have the right to enforce the rules. But there is a big problem here: their partner didn’t agree to the rules or didn’t know about them. How are rules enforced? They are imposed in many typically maladaptive ways – passively, aggressively or passive-aggressively. In other words I might get angry or withdraw or nag or treat you with silent contempt – but somehow I will make you pay.

Early in our marriage Nan or I would defend our rules by saying “Well, if I didn’t need you to do such and such, then I wouldn’t ask.” The message was clear: “This is one of my rules that you need to obey.” And that was a source of conflict for us until we were able to learn to compromise and agree. Oh, by the way – that took a long time and sometimes we still stumble across it in our relationship.

The best way to deal with a rule-maker is to first reflect what they have said (“So you would like me to connect with you before turning on the television when I come home from work?”) Then you can kindly ask to have a discussion. (“Let’s talk about that.”) You are gently asserting your power within the relationship and letting your partner know that you need to be treated with respect. If you have a very dominant or aggressive partner you may have to be more firm and set a harder boundary. (“I am not comfortable with the way you are approaching me with your ‘request’. We need to talk about this.”)

I have been known, when given a direct command by Nan, to smile and reply, “Are you asking me?” Again, I am communicating my adult status in the relationship. She is always gracious and replies “Sorry. Would you mind….”)? Then there is no conflict that follows and usually I am willing to meet her request – or at least negotiate with her.

When it comes to unspoken rules, we need to identify them. Our partner can’t read our mind, and they didn’t grow up in our family so that they automatically know what is expected.  Then we need to talk about them, where we agree and where we disagree. That is one of the exercises that we have couples do in our premarrieds class. It saves a lot of unpleasant conflict later in the marriage.

Whether you are a rule-maker or in a relationship with one, talking about it when you are not in the heat of a conflict can be very helpful. Kindness and humility will win the day.

If you need help from an outside party, don’t be too proud to ask.

Cultural Awareness


Culture (/ˈkʌlər/) is, in the words of E.B. Tylor, “that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.”

Growing up I understood “to be cultured” as something that was mostly acquired by the wealthy and privileged, the intellectually astute or those of societal stature who are “in the loop”. These days I know that we are actually all a product of culture, or really many cultures, and it is nothing like the concept that I learned.

What are some of these cultures?

  • My work culture
  • My family of origin culture
  • My ethnic culture
  • The popular culture during my formative years
  • My religious culture
  • My economic culture

And we go on to create cultures, too, when we get married and have a family. But the resultant culture has been highly influenced by all the others that we were exposed to.

Why is this so important? The truth is that the person we form a relationship with will likely have a different mix than we do. And these differences can become the source of a lot of conflicts because they often represent some deeply held beliefs or values.

These beliefs determine how we educate children, how we discipline them and what position we give them in a family. They determine marriage roles, how we file our taxes, where we live and what we drive. Is it OK to buy retail or must we negotiate for a price every time? Can a man be a stay-at-home dad or is that shameful?

I have heard individuals declare “I could never marry a Democrat” or “I could never marry a Republican”. These can be intense differences.

Often we will come across a couple that come from completely separate moral codes. She has no problem with premarital sex, but he wouldn’t even consider it. Or he wants to move in together to have a “trial marriage”, but she feels it would bring shame on her family. These moral decisions come from our cultural beliefs, religious, ethnic or family, and they are not easily set aside.

When we have one of these cultural disputes in counseling we always try to point them in a new direction. We ask this question:

“Will you allow God’s culture to trump all of the other ones? Will you allow the Bible to be the arbiter of this dispute?”

These are sobering questions for a Christian. This is where the “rubber meets the road” and puts their faith to the test. It often will cause cognitive dissonance. Fortunately it can have a benefit, too, of helping move people towards clarity of values and embracing suffering for the right reasons. It’s no fun to delay or surrender gratification or wrestle with a potential shift in our thinking.

Going against one’s family of origin culture may feel like disloyalty, especially when it involves the family directly as in planning a wedding. Nan and I highly recommend that you deal with these differences prior to announcing your engagement. Some really ugly stuff can come up if the couple is not clear on what their boundaries with family are.

So what influences you the most? Really ask yourself this question before you move on.

Popular culture?

Liberal or conservative culture?

Family culture?

Or God’s culture?

Get Rich Quick!


One of things that I have realized over my life is that the same truths keep being recycled in each generation. They may be packaged differently, but the basic underlying principles remain.

At first, I thought “How boring. Everyone knows that! There is no need to repeat that.”

But the truth is, everyone doesn’t know that. It takes repeating and remembering for a known truth to be perpetuated. The Bible talks about this repeatedly. It is the foundational premise behind building altars and sustaining markers.

“Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:7-9)

One of those biblical truths for me has been this: Live on less than you earn. 

Let me be clear. This does not include the credit available on charge cards or the minimum payments allowable. It means that if you are not able to pay off the balances each month on a charge card, you are not living on less than you earn.

It also goes for most loans (home mortgage excepted). I have bought beater cars to stay within budget, used and donated furniture to stay within budget and many other strategies so that I did not have to take out a loan. I have not always done this – I have learned by experience, meaning I have made mistakes. I have taken out car and appliance loans (even a boat loan) and not paid off credit card balances – and I really wish I had all that interest in my bank account instead of in the loan company’s coffers.

In this culture you will have many opposing voices to this basic, sound and time-tested advice. You will hear about leveraging this and strategizing that. But each one of those concepts will take away from your peace and freedom. King Solomon gives us his wisdom in the Bible.

  • “Wealth from get-rich-quick schemes quickly disappears; wealth from hard work grows over time.” (Proverbs 13:11)
  • “The trustworthy person will get a rich reward, but a person who wants quick riches will get into trouble.” (Proverbs 28:20)
  • “Greedy people try to get rich quick but don’t realize they’re headed for poverty.” (Proverbs 28:22)
  • “Just as the rich rule the poor, so the borrower is servant to the lender.” (Proverbs 22:7)

Following the ‘live on less than you earn” strategy will often feel harsh because it means embracing delayed gratification as a way of life, at least for a while. And it is definitely not the message of the greater Western culture. It is not the message of entitlement and “you deserve” thinking. Rather, it is the voice of contentment and stability.

Every new generation needs to hear this message. Smart parents will make sure that they follow this and pass it on.