In the beginning of a relationship, it usually feels like you'll get along perfectly and will never hurt each other. Then, slowly, before you know it, you're treating each other in ways you never imagined you could. You're breaking relationship ground rules that you never even talked about — and at that point, you might wish you had. Making your expectations clear in the beginning may not prevent you from falling short of them, but it will help you identify when that happens and nip the issue in the bud.
"Boundaries are essential for every relationship," Counselor and Marriage and Family Therapist Jameela Jackson, LAC, LAMFT tells Bustle. "What's important to remember is that every relationship is different, meaning we at times may need to be flexible with boundaries. When communicating boundaries, couples leaning toward gaining intimacy in their relationship may want to learn to express the meaning behind a boundary or 'ground rule.' For example, a partner may say, 'I feel disrespected when you answer text messages or calls from your ex after 11 p.m.' That way, the significant other now understands the boundary and why it was needed."
Your ground rules should be based on you and your partner's specific needs, but just to give you some ideas, here are some ground rules that experts say can help set the foundation for an adult relationship.
1Leave The Past In The Past
"All too often, people bring issues from their past relationships into their new one," relationship coach Tiffany Toombs tells Bustle. "Both partners have to be willing to leave their past relationships in the past and treat this relationship as a clean slate." Leaving the past in the past also means that any past conflict between you two won't be brought up in future arguments as ammunition against each other.
2Don't Play The Blame Game
Except in instances where one person really screwed up big time or is toxic, the blame for conflict in a relationship generally belongs at least partially to both people, says Toombs. So, take responsibility for your own role, and focus on finding a solution rather than chastising your partner.
3Don't Make Assumptions
This is a good rule for going about life in general. In relationships, people may expect their partners to read their minds and know what they want. Often, the result of this is that you don't tell your partner what you want, so you don't end up getting it. Then, you resent them for not doing something they didn't know they were supposed to do. "We need to be clear in our expectations, our needs, and our desires if we want to ensure a relationship is successful," says Toombs.
4Plan Regular Date Nights
Even if you live together, having regular date nights ensures that your time together is enjoyable. If your only interactions involve telling each other to turn down to music and clean up their food, you can start to resent each other. "It can be easy to get caught up in the busyness of life, and not prioritizing time to spend together and build or maintain the connection is often where relationships can get into trouble," says Toombs. "Decide if you want a weekly, bi-monthly, or monthly date night and stick to it! Just like any other meeting you would prioritize, couples need to prioritize each other."
5Speak Up For Yourself
It may seem like you're giving your partner a hard time by advocating for what you want, especially if it's not what they want, but you're actually doing them a favor. After all, that gives them the chance to provide what you want so that you'll be happy with them, and then everyone will be happy. "If you naturally cave to everyone else’s wants and needs, try asserting your own and see how it goes," Megan Hunter, co-founder of the High Conflict Institute and author of Dating Radar: Why Your Brain Says Yes to "The One" Who Will Make Your Life Hell, tells Bustle. "You’ll be surprised at the respect that starts flowing your way."
6Don't Be An Enabler
If your partner needs to get better about their spending habits, don't constantly lend them money that they don't need. If they want to gossip less, don't laugh at their mean jokes. "Tell them that it’s not appropriate, even if it makes you terribly uncomfortable to say it out loud," says Hunter. "Discomfort only lasts a few seconds, but the boundary lasts long-term."
7Don't Take Your Anger Out On Each Other
"Often, in the beginning of relationships, couples will relish in the newness of love, lacking a plan to manage conflict," Keisha M. Wells, LPC, NCC, a licensed professional counselor at Transformation Counseling Services, tells Bustle. Then, once they're mad at each other, respect goes out the window. To avoid this, it can help to designate a "cooling down period" before you discuss what you're angry about. This lets you talk about it in a more calm, understanding manner.
8Treat Your Partner The Way They Want To Be Treated
We're usually told to treat others the way you want to be treated, but the truth is, we all want to be treated in different ways. Instead of loving your partner the way you want to be loved, Wells recommends learning how they want to be loved. Learn their love language, which will tell you how they feel loved (physical touch, words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, or quality time) and ask them what you can do to make them happy.
Commit yourself to these rules in the beginning of your relationship, and you'll set the foundation both to experience fewer conflicts and to cope better with the ones that arise.