Browsing a gift shop in Astoria, Oregon, Ed and I found two tiny books by Blanche Ebutt, published by Bloomsbury in 1913. They’re titled “DON’TS FOR HUSBANDS” and “DON’TS FOR WIVES”.
The DON’TS FOR HUSBANDS contains this gem: “Don’t drop cigarette ash all over the drawing room carpet. Some people will tell you that this improves the colours, but your wife won’t care to try that recipe.”
In DON’TS FOR WIVES, we found this caution: “Don’t let your cook persist in frying steak when your husband likes it grilled, or in serving his eggs hard-boiled when he likes them milky.”
Cute, quaint, but not exactly relevant these days. And do modern couples even need “Don’ts”? Yes. We do.
Coupledom is a joint venture. Boundaries and rules help us avoid conflict and keep us on a track that leads to and maintains secure attachment. We suggest that couples create contracts, with clear guidelines as to what is not mutually okay. If one partner breaches the contract, the other can say, “We don’t do that,” or “That is not something we do.” These contracts are especially important around issues where there is conflict.
For example, here are some “Don’ts” we’ve seen help couples:
We don’t talk negatively about our relationship with our respective families or friends. We tell them, “That’s private, between us.”
We don’t spend money for items costing above (X amount) without consulting each other.
We don’t check our cell phones while we’re sharing a meal.
We don’t badmouth our partner in front of anyone.
We don’t, even in the blaze of an argument, use phrases and terms that threaten the relationship. “I’m outa here. Gone. Divorce!” (More about this one in a future blog.)
Think of the contract as a safety net to keep you from doing hurtful things. “We don’t do that,” is not attacking nor accusatory, if you’ve mutually decided you don’t do that because it will harm your relationship.
We aren’t “bad” because we need contracts. We need contracts to help us take care of each other. As DON’TS FOR HUSBANDS says, “Don’t think that, because she is a woman, that your wife ought to be an angel of light. She is just as much of a human being as you are, and no more perfect.” Likewise, DON’TS FOR WIVES admonishes, “Don’t expect your husband to be an angel. You’d get very tired of him if he were.”
It’s not likely any of us will become angelic. We can, however, become better partners. Clear agreements on how we deal with each other can help.