The Guiding Principles for Our Relationship

As we have been working on improving our marriage we have come up with seven guiding principles, or vows, for our relationship.

  • You are the most important person (and thing) in my life.
  • You can trust me.
  • You can’t read my mind but I can talk.
  • I choose to be happy.
  • I will compromise; it’s okay to negotiate.
  • I can’t change the past but we can agree on expectations for the future.
  • Sex is Important.

These principles are designed to create an intimate and tightly coupled relationship. Our desire is to be a team that approaches everything in life together, even when we can’t be beside each other, and especially when times are tough.

You are the most important person (and thing) in my life. The decision to marry isn’t one we take lightly. Marriage is a lifelong and eternal commitment. The book of Genesis puts it as “therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” The Doctrine and Covenants words it as “thou shalt love thy wife with all thy heart, and shalt cleave unto her and none else.” But regardless of religious affiliation we can each decide to make a marital commitment to our spouse that they are the most important person and thing in our lives.

Our spouse is more important than our parents. They are more important than our children. They are more important than our friends. They are more important than a text message that just showed up on our phone. Our parents, children, friends, and other areas of our lives are all important, and we need to keep the correct balance, but we don’t allow them to become competition for our relationship. Instead, we, as a couple, approach life as a united front.

See also: Creating a Couple Bubble to Strengthen Your Marriage

You can trust me. Trust basically means we will do what we have said we will. This is easy to understand, but I like the more nuanced way that Brene Brown defines it. She uses 7 key words: boundaries (ask when unsure and be willing to say no), reliability (do what you say you will), accountability (own your mistakes and make amends), vault (keep confidences), integrity (do what is right even when hard), non-judgement (we can talk openly), and generosity (assume the best).

In our marriage there is so much that needs to be done. We have children to raise, careers to progress, and many, many other responsibilities. If we are to have the time and energy to do all of these things we have to be able to completely trust each other to be loyal, reliable, follow previous agreements, keep confidences, and communicate when we are unsure or things change.

See also: Forgetting Is Okay, But Remembering Is Best

You can’t read my mind but I can talk. Thoughts lead to actions. As a result the only way we can really understand why our spouse acts and reacts the way they do is to know their thoughts. There are two ways to do this. We can pay careful attention to what they do and try to deduce what they are thinking or they can tell us what they’re thinking. The second method creates closer intimacy, but the saying “actions speak louder than words” is true as well.

We have an agreement where at any time we can simply ask, “what are you thinking?” to each other. It is expected that the person won’t filter their thoughts and will just say what they are thinking. As we are willing to share our thoughts more freely and as we make the effort to better understand our spouse we will become much closer.

See also: Forgetting Is Okay, But Remembering Is Best, Stay Connected Through the Day

I choose to be happy. Happiness, excitement, energy, and optimism are all things that at some level are choices. We aren’t saying we can just decide to be happy, or that it is reasonable to be happy at all times, but we can decide to think and act in a way that makes it more likely we will be happy.

We can choose to be more optimistic about a given situation. We can choose to create better sleep habits. We can choose to eat healthier, exercise more, and do whatever else will help us be happier in the long run. Most importantly, we can choose to be honest about the things that are troubling us, so that together with our spouse we can find solutions that will enable us to be happier in the future.

The best part about being happy, it’s contagious. As we find ways to be happier, our spouse will be happier, and as they find ways to be happier, we will be happier. This is a positive feedback loop we want in our marriage.

See also: Choose to Be Grateful for Your Spouse

I will compromise; it’s okay to negotiate. I want ice cream. We should watch a movie tonight. Can you take out the garbage? There are two brains in every marriage, and those two brains don’t have the same thoughts, wants, and desires. As a result, if we want to be closely coupled with each other, we have to learn to come to an agreement in areas where we don’t agree.

We have to be willing to not get exactly what we want at all times, it also means, sometimes, we need to happily do things we don’t want to do. We have to compromise. We have to be willing to negotiate. We can’t just decide we want ice cream tonight, and if we don’t get it we will pout. We can’t just say “no” or belittle our spouse, when they want to do something we don’t. We can find a mutually satisfactory solution, where we both get some of what we want and are willing to sacrifice for our spouse and for the health of the relationship.

When one of us feels a decision needs to be changed it requires a discussion. We don’t change how we do things without talking to the other person. So things continue on as we decided until we talk about it and come to a new agreement. We don’t come to a discussion with an outcome already decided. This doesn’t mean we can’t have ideas or opinions but we can’t have what we are doing decided. A decision comes after the discussion, and not before.

See also:

I can’t change the past but we can agree on expectations for the future. We used to get into arguments that focused on details from the past. Now we have agreed we can discuss the past, but only for long enough to try to understand what happened and why (including each other's opinions and feelings). Then we shift to determining expectations for the future.

If we think our spouse did something, and they don’t remember doing it, there is no point in arguing about the details. Our memories are different and that is okay. Instead let’s talk about our expectations for the future. This allows us to get out of who was right and who was wrong.

See also: What We Learned by Focusing On Defensiveness, “Being Wrong” - Book Review

Sex is Important. We have debated if this belongs in this list. But the decision was that even though this is very specific, and there are obvious all sorts of challenges that can make this difficult for couples, it is important enough to outweigh these objections.

Making love is important. We try to have sex every night. More realistically it happens 5-6 times a week, really good fun sex 2-3 times a week. But sex is needed in a marital relationship. It requires you to put away your distractions and insecurities and just be present with your spouse. If we think of sex as an obligation or something we have to do to keep the other person happy we are going to resent it. It is all in how you look at it and if you see it as an important part of your marriage. Set aside the time you and your spouse need to experience this intimacy.

See also: Improving Intimacy in Marriage - And Why Say Yes, Enjoy Sex With Your Spouse

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We would encourage you to create a basic set of principles for your relationship. The best part about creating a set of principles like these is that the discussion it generates will increase your understanding of each other. The second thing it will do is give you an opportunity to reflect on how well you are actually living up to what you believe is important.

We have sought to build a close knit and strong intimate relationship. We feel these seven principles are a great way for you to get started. We challenge you to look at your own relationship and see where you can start improving your own relationship and to help it grow.

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The purpose of “The Couple Project” is to learn more about what makes a strong marriage or relationship. We share what we are learning, which ideas we are trying, and which ideas helped improve our relationship. We realize not everything that works for us will work for you, but we still hope you will find our journey valuable.

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"A United Marriage: 5 Biblical Principles to Ponder"