Reality Check: The Joy of Groundrules

How’s the new job, Sara?

It’s ok, but there are an awful lot of rules. There’s a rule for when you come in, when you leave, what you can say to customers, what you do during slow times…There is a rule for everything!

Some folks don’t like rules. If that’s you, then you may be surprised to learn that others enjoy having clear rules.

In choice theory, Dr. Glasser identified basic needs that we all share. One of those needs is a need for freedom. If you have a high level of the need for freedom, then you may find yourself rebelling against rules even when you know the rules are reasonable. Conversely, if your need for freedom is relatively low, you may be perfectly content in a structured, rule-based environment.

The workplace is not the only place where rules come into play. Interestingly, even high-freedom-needing individuals can function happily in some types of controlled environments.

Take sports, for example. Without rules, how would you know what’s acceptable behaviour and what’s not? How would you know when you’ve won? Whether it’s bingo, baseball, or bridge, if we want to play, we accept the reality that there are rules that we need to follow.

Rules can be helpful in other aspects of life too.

For example, anyone who has attended pretty much anything I’ve organized over the years know that one of my groundrules is, “Start on time; end on time.” It’s clear; it’s respectful of both participant’s time and my time, and it works!

How about groundrules for relationships, such as parent-child? When Sara moved out, conflict arose with her mom. Why? Mom worries about Sara living alone in a big, frightening world. So Mom calls her. And calls. And calls, till Sara finally responds and lets Mom know that all is well.

Sara, with her high need for freedom, feels that Mom is trying to control her. Unless Sara and Mom can come to an agreement on groundrules for appropriate behaviour, this conflict could spoil what is fundamentally a good, caring relationship.

It can even be helpful to agree on groundrules for intimate relationships, such as marriage. Everything doesn’t necessarily fall into place just because you have love!

Before you commit to sharing your life with another, might it be handy if both of you are clear and open about expectations and groundrules for the relationship?

What kinds of expectations? There are many possibilities. To get you started, here are a few questions to consider with your partner.

How do you expect to spend free time? Do you plan to continue partying with friends on weekends? Or do expect you’ll spend more time with just the two of you?

Do you believe that the relationship is literally till death parts you? Or do you believe in sustaining it only as long as you both agree that it works?

How about money? Do you believe that saving money is old-fashioned? Or do you believe that saving is essential?

Do you believe that family and friends must be loyally cared-for? Or do you believe that they are on their own?

Perhaps most importantly, do you believe that your fate is largely the result of your choices? Or do you believe that we are largely victims of others?

While it’s not essential that you and your beloved totally agree, it is helpful to know what the other believes. From that understanding, with goodwill, the two of you can figure out groundrules that will set a foundation for your relationship.

There is a real upside to having clear, unambiguous, agreed upon groundrules for many aspects of life, whether it’s work, sports, or relationships. Do you have groundrules in your life?

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