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5 Marriage Rules from a Therapist

Below are five tips to help you have a fulfilling marriage:

  1. Respect the perspective.
    Everyone is a product of his or her upbringing. We all bring “family rules” into relationships, and most of the time we don’t even realize it. How did your family handle stress? Was money discussed with the children? How were children disciplined? Did the family eat every meal at the dinner table? Who handled the money in the house?

    These are all questions that seem boring and unimportant, but every family answers them in different ways. The way your family handled these issues is not the way every family handles them. We unfairly project our family beliefs, or perspectives, into our new families and expect our spouses to follow our lead. But they had a family too, and that family had its own beliefs, which shaped your spouse’s perspective. Just because someone has a different way of doing or seeing things does not make them wrong.

  2. Use “I” statements.
    When you are angry with your spouse, your first response to them tends to be, “you did that just to…” or “I wish you would consider…” or “you know how that makes me feel.” “You” statements automatically put the other person on the defensive, and what does a person on the defensive do? They defend themselves. Suddenly your argument is no longer about the issue; it’s personal. A person on the defensive is going to shoot an angry response right back at you. It’s only human nature. So how do we change the tone?

    When you are angry or upset, find a way to use “I” statements instead of “you” statements. An example would be, “I feel frustrated when you do not take out the trash” or “I feel hurt when you don’t tell me you’re going to be late.” “I” statements allow you to take ownership for your emotions instead of blaming the other person. With “I” statements, an actual discussion about the issue can take place instead of a couple of hurt people hurting each other while on the defensive.

  3. Follow the 60/40 rule.
    Marriage is all about give and take, and most people understand that. The problem is understanding when you are supposed to give and when you are supposed to take. Giving too much leads to your own need fulfillment being shut out and a feeling that you are being taken advantage of. Taking too much leaves your spouse feeling that way.

    So what are you supposed to do? Follow the 60/40 rule. Give 60 percent of the time and take 40 percent of the time. An equal partnership, or 50/50, is what you are aiming for, but aiming for 50/50 often will cause a coupled to keep score. This is something you definitely do not want in your relationship, because it will become a battle. Give more than you take. Don’t give all the time, but don’t take more than you give.

  4. Fake it till you make it.
    Intentionally change your actions. This will in turn affect your thoughts, emotions, and physiology. I am not talking about putting on that fake, passive-aggressive smile to intentionally aggravate your spouse or significant other. You need to genuinely and completely fake it.

    Ask yourself this question: “How would I act if my marriage were perfect?” Many people would say, “I would enjoy spending time with my family, I would look forward to coming home, I would be a happier person.” Go ahead and act as if your marriage is perfect and you are those things. Wherever your behaviors go, your thoughts and emotions are sure to follow. Pretty soon you won’t be faking anymore.

  5. Understand basic psychological needs.
    The basic psychological needs are: Love/belonging, power/accomplishment, freedom/independence, survival, and fun. Sometimes our spouses do things that we just don’t understand. Why does your spouse “need” to go out with their friends once a week? The answer could be to fulfill their need for fun, freedom, or love. Why does your spouse “need” to have the house cleaned from top to bottom every two weeks? Perhaps this is the way they fulfill their need for accomplishment.

    Everyone has different needs they want fulfilled, and we can become caught up in thinking that our way of seeing things is the only way. Don’t give your spouse a hard time about the things that are uniquely them. Instead, allow your spouse some activities (or create some yourself) that allow them to be unique individuals, and find fulfillment for their needs. If you try to suppress a behavior that fulfills a unique need, you will likely have a fight on your hands, and the other person may not be able to explain why.

Happy couple photo available from Shutterstock

5 Marriage Rules from a Therapist

Thomas Winterman

Thomas Winterman is a therapist, school counselor, author, and blogger who lives in Panama City, FL. His e-book, The Thrive Life, is available on Amazon. His blog can be found at

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APA Reference
Winterman, T. (2018). 5 Marriage Rules from a Therapist. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 29, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 7 Aug 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.