Lately I’ve noticed that people are spending a lot of their time coming up with ways to NOT follow Rules.rules5-300x203

If there’s a Rule lurking out there, the knee-jerk reaction to it very often seems to be: “It’s wrong that this Rule is in place, limiting my freedom – and I must break it!” It’s almost like the Rule is an affront to democracy or some other inalienable right, like watching porn (as long as the porn star is over 18, which is really just another one of those pesky Rules…), or checking your email on your “Smart” phone during a conversation with your date. I know, I know… you’re an amazing multitasker.

So, when did Rules get such a bum rap?

Rules have become those things that frustrate us, limit us, suffocate our unique expression. We feel threatened by them, because we’ve come to believe that any expectation or requirement that we control any of our desires – even if we know our desires negatively affect others – is bad.

We don’t want to be “controlled.” We’re not children who need to be told what to do!

But if breaking Rules is so right, why is the end result – that is, the fallout from NOT following rules – showing up in record-breaking numbers in the relationships I see on the news, in my personal life, and on the therapy couch in my office. Why are people so unhappy with the way their lives are playing out?

The answer and the sad truth is: Although we are no longer children, we sure do act like babies when it comes to relationships and intimacy. Although we claim to be all grown up, we expect our lovers to be “good” mommies and daddies and love us unconditionally no matter what we do and what messes we make of ourselves and our relationships.

And just like babies, forget about asking us to change anything about ourselves! If we would agree that we need to change something, well… wouldn’t it logically follow that we were doing something wrong… that we were bad in some way? Again, we don’t like that.

We want to be free to put all our junk out there in the way it feels most comfortable to us – and we want you to be okay with it. And if you don’t like it, we may label you as uptight, prude, needy, insecure… and make you feel wrong about your expectations… your Rules.

That’s all just a front, though… And a paradox.

While we say we want less Rules – and we may even believe that we in fact want less Rules – we really just don’t understand that the Rules of Engagement are the only things that help us get those experiences we’re really searching for when we say we don’t want to follow the Rules (you follow me?). We need the Rules. They provide us with that blueprint I often talk about for finding intimacy and meaning in relationships.

We see this contradiction with (literal) children all the time. Under the guise of “supporting self-esteem,” parents will allow a child to break the Rules – and may never tell the child that any behavior is wrong or bad. From these parents, I’ve come to understand that they cannot separate the “bad” behavior from the child, so all behavior then must be deemed acceptable. To make any behavior unacceptable in these parents’ minds would mean that the child is also unacceptable.

And this is the same path (or should I refer to it as gridlock) through which we remain children in our adult love relationships, unwilling and unable to follow the Rules that are as necessary to our love relationship as blood is to our heart.

We have come to equate the Rules in relationship with something wrong or punitive, yet we as adults in love can change that. We can change our Rules about the Rules.

You see, we – the people – ultimately determine the Rules in our relationship. The Rules can be whatever we want them to be. The problem with the Rules occurs when both people in the relationship are not even in agreement about what the rules will be. We’re playing a game with no instructions. A lot of us don’t even know what the game is.

But how would we know the Rules if they aren’t fleshed out… if they aren’t made explicit?

In terms of the flesh and explicit part, lots of people think that having good (explicit!) sex somehow makes the Rules clearer. We’ve all experienced the sense of intimacy – the sense of “knowing” each other – that occurs after a great sex session. But far too often, great sex only serves to mask inherent and fundamental differences in the way we want to play the relationship game with each other. In other words, although we know how to “play with” each other, we don’t really know how to play with each other.

Real intimacy, which leads to playing the same relationship game together – which then leads to truly amazing sex! – comes from a deep understanding of yourself and your partner and a desire to meet each other’s needs.

And these Rules are anything but imprisoning.

They’re ultimately freeing…