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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Reactive rules vs. Proactive rules

Yeah, I'm going to talk about rules AGAIN. For some reason I seem to be hearing and reading a lot about rules lately. (That will change soon, promise!).

Something that struck me recently was the difference between a reactive rule and a proactive rule. For example:
Proactive: If you get a new partner you have to keep showing me the attention you always have. Your new relationship can't diminish our existing relationship.
Reactive: You are treating your new partner better than me. You dote on them, giving them presents and treating them special. I want that too, you have to treat me the same!

Although a subtle difference, the proactive rule is really made as more of an understanding so partner(s) can continue to have their needs met despite potential changes in the relationship. It is likely designed to prevent a problem in the future.

The reactive rule is more likely the result of an existing partner feeling something is missing, possibly due to a change in the relationship, and wanting to enforce their needs being met.

Personally I prefer proactive to reactive types of rules or understandings. In my opinion a proactive agreement lets both partners know what they want in a relationship. At the same time both probably realize not meeting that agreement will cause problems in the relationship. A reactive rule feels much more to me like saying "Hey, I want you to modify your behavior". It creates an impression that something wrong was done and corrective action is being taken. Almost like a penalty.

At times I can see the need for either kind of 'rule' but I have also seen how rules can overwhelm relationships. Particularly when one person isn't feeling their needs are being met and starts creating a bunch of rules to have their needs supported. In that scenario I think there is possibly a problem in the relationship that creating a bunch of rules isn't going to solve. Rather than creating rules to make the relationship work maybe it is time to have conversations so that feelings and needs are understood by everyone involved. Maybe it is time to renegotiate the relationship. It is possible one partner's needs aren't being met because they aren't understood. Maybe both partner's needs aren't being met and neither realize it, creating a self-sustaining circle of unhappiness between them.

What do you think? Proactive vs. Reactive rules/expectations/understandings, is there that big a difference? Which do you prefer? Which have you employed in your relationships and how have they worked?

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