10 Rules Every Couple Should Live By
Updated: Apr 13
The brilliant Stan Tatkin, creator of PACT Therapy, created the 10 commandments for Secure-Functioning Relationships. (Not sure what "secure functioning" means? Click HERE to read my post on the subject!)
He claims (...okay, he isn't actually quoted anywhere, but I'm sure he would claim theoretically...) that just as the original 10 commandments are a framework to doing life well, couples who live by these commandments are masters of each other and of doing relationships well.
In this post, you’ll find
Tatkin’s original "10 commandments"
A translated version so you don't have to think too much (relationships are hard enough!).
A discussion of each principle
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The original 10 commandments
The translated version...
Break it down now, ya'll.
1. Put the relationship first at all times.
This principle is ultimately about the couple bubble-- A physical metaphor for the relationship itsself. The couple bubble is a safe “home” in which to be authentically you; where you feel loved and cared for; where you can grow, explore, and prosper. It sounds lovely, right? You can look here for in-depth reading about the couple bubble.
Protect the couple bubble from outside threats by making decisions with the well being of the relationship in mind, and working together with a team mentality. This may involve practices such as admitting you're wrong for the sake of the relationship's health or planning proactively when one or both of you suspect you will be put in an uncomfortable position. This brings us to principle #2...
2. Make decisions and do things that are good for you AND your partner.
Here is something that may be mind-blowing: in disagreement and conflict between partners, it is possible for both to win (more on win-wins in relationships). As Stan says (I'm not making it up this time--he really does say this!): "If one person loses, the relationship loses." If you are genuinely working with you and your partner's core needs in mind, almost every scenario has an outcome where both feel like you've won and your needs have been met.
3. Don’t threaten to break up or leave – this only causes anxiety and distrust.
Threatening the relationship is like putting a gun on the table at a dinner party. If you felt safe before, now you may be a bit uncomfortable; if you were in distress before, now you feel downright panicked. Secure couples work through difficulty with the mindset of "we will get through this" and find ways to communicate that mentality even during tension.
4. Tell your partner things first—especially if it’s important.
This principle gets a lot of confusion from couples I work with. "It's fine if he tells someone before me", I often hear. But imagine learning important news about your partner’s life from someone outside of the relationship. What if your partner sought comfort from that person without you knowing? Knowing what is going on in your partner’s life and being their primary source of comfort is important, which is easier when principle #5 is in place...
5. To the extent it is possible, always be available to the other. Always greet each other with warmth and love.
When you go about the relationship with the spirit of “I’m always here for you, and I’m always happy to hear from you,” heightened security and relationship satisfaction naturally follow. There is a sense of comfort that comes from knowing if you want to reach your partner, you can; and with technology, it's easier than ever. It's anxiety-relieving to know that if there is a child emergency, or if you have a question about dinner, or even if you just want to say hi--your partner is reachable and happy to hear from you.
Greeting each other with warmth and love is so important that, in my mind, it could be its own principle, but it makes sense to be paired when you consider the fact that a closed-off or disgruntled person is hardly "available” to talk to.
6. Protect your partner and your relationship in public and private from criticism, embarrassment, and hurt.
Whether it's mothers-in-law, sarcastic friends, or yourself, good partners are aware of when you are vulnerable and make sure others know they are on your side. Similarly, they also protect the relationship. While it may be okay to vent about a character flaw to a best friend who knows the strength and spirit of your relationship, it is a different story to tell your new office that your relationship is on the rocks.
7. Create a ritual around bedtime and waking up. If possible, go to sleep and wake together.
There is something calming and comforting about knowing that you have someone to start and end the day with. You can use this time for: “quiet love” such as cuddling while you read or rub each other's shoulders, or you can use it to create more emotional intimacy by discussing highs and lows of your day. Much like how you can imagine the warmth and love of a parent tucking in a child with a story and a kiss, we can re-create the warmth and safety of these loving moments with our partners.
8. Don’t let arguments or hurtful comments linger. Instead of ruminating or trying to forget, repair and process immediately.
We hold on to information until we feel like we can forget it (that's why many students immediately forget the content they crammed for after a test). Until we process an argument and feel it is resolved, we hold on to the pain, anxiety, and resentment in our bodies. If we wait too long, these memories and feelings become encoded into our long-term memory. On the flip side, quickly repairing after a snide comment or fight encodes a sense of safety and security about the strength of the relationship.
9. Look at your partner with lingering admiration and love often. Be sure to shower them with appreciation, admiration, and gratitude.
When couples come in feeling like strangers or missing a sense of connection, they often report the absence of eye-gazing and expression of appreciation and admiration. Maintaining friendly and loving eye contact fosters the feelings of falling in love. Appreciating and admiring your partner feeds connection and respect. Sharing gratitude improves emotion and reduces stress.
10. Know your partner well. Know what turns them on, what is motivating, what makes them happy and agreeable. Don’t use your knowledge of their triggers or fears to gain influence.
As a partner in a romantic relationship, you hold so much power if you dare to pay attention to your partner and learn what makes them tick. If you are dying for quality time with your partner, your way to achieve this may be very different if your partner has a second relationship with video games ("hey honey, how about I watch you finish this round then we take a walk?") than if your partner won't relax until the house is clean (surprise your mate with a clean house and then enjoy a long meal with prolonged conversation and hand-holding). Imagine how different those outcomes would be from a comment such as "I swear if you don't get off that game, I'm leaving and never coming back" or "Jeez, let the house go and just sit down!" Knowing your partner well is key to finding the win-win outcomes evident in happy relationships.
Use these rules as a guide or instrument to measure what you've been doing well and what your relationship can work on. Once you've mastered the commandments, your relationship may just feel like heaven.
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Amy Bishop is a Marriage and Family Therapist candidate located in the heart of downtown Colorado Springs, CO. She enjoys working with couples of all stages in their relationship as well as individuals.