How to experiment with new relationship rules

August 25,2020

“I can’t do this by myself anymore!” I wailed. “I need you to come home RIGHT NOW!”

I had just rear-ended a car while trying to back out of the garage of our San Francisco apartment.

I was sitting in my car, crying over the phone to Xander, while our puppy Winston barked and cried on the seat beside me. 

How the heck did I get there?

By begging and pleading with Xander to let us get a dog, even though he had warned me that he was too busy with work to help with puppy training. 

“I’ll do it all myself!” I promised. I was in grad school at the time, and most of my day was spent at home studying. Throwing a puppy into the mix seemed easy peasy!

So that was our rule – we could get a puppy if I promised to be the primary caretaker.

But it turns out having a puppy was WAY more work than I had imagined. 

That fateful day, I had been desperately trying to finish a final paper for one of my classes while also training Winston to get comfortable staying in his pen. But we ran out of treats for the training session, and he was too wound up to stay still in the pen anyways. He had been crying non-stop for over an hour, and I was making zero progress on the paper. I started getting horribly overwhelmed. I grabbed Winston and my car keys, thinking we’d take a quick trip to our nearby pet store to pick up treats and blow off some steam. I was so frustrated and distracted that I just pulled out of the driveway without even noticing to see if someone was blocking our driveway. (Forgetting that this was in San Francisco, and parking was so scarce that there was almost always someone blocking our driveway!). And boom – I backed right into the car. 

So that little rule we had agreed to?

It only lasted a couple of weeks. 


This month, we’ve been talking about relationship rules. 

But the word “rule” feels pretty definitive, doesn’t it? It feels like a serious commitment. Something you can’t break. 

In reality, relationship rules can – and should – change over time. 

When we say we want you to make your own rules for your relationship, we don’t mean you should create a binding, life-long contract with each other that can never, ever be broken. 

Who you are in your relationship now is very different from who you were 5 years ago, and who you’ll be 5 years from now. 

What worked at one stage of your relationship won’t necessarily work in a different stage.

Plus, if you think of a new rule as something you’ll need to follow for the rest of your life, that’s going to make trying anything new feel really intimidating and overwhelming!

So here’s our advice to you…

Treat new relationship rules as an experiment.

Just that single word – experiment – can feel SO freeing! 

Because it reminds you that you’re not committing to this rule for the rest of your life. 

You’re just taking it for a little test drive!

If you want, you can decide to experiment with a new rule, ritual, or arrangement for a set period of time. Then, commit to checking in with each other about how it’s going at a later date. At that time, you can evaluate whether or not you want to continue. 

We do this with our household chores. A few years ago, we sat down with each other and divided up all of our household responsibilities in a way that felt fair at the time.

But we didn’t just leave it there. 

We come back to that list once a year, and request any adjustments that we’d like. 

For example, Xander used to do all of the cooking for the two of us. I was his sous chef, and had clean-up duty. But something strange happened when COVID struck, and I suddenly felt like doing the cooking. So we talked about it and renegotiated our rules around cooking. Now we’re experimenting with having me plan out all of our meals and take the lead with cooking. 

This might sound like a small example, but it’s a pretty wild one for us! For almost 13 YEARS, Xander has been the cook in our family. But now I am!

So give yourself the freedom to try out new rules, and see if they work better for you than your old ones. If you give yourself the permission to be creative and experiment, you very well may surprise yourselves!

Now, we want to know – does the thought of treating it as an experiment make you feel more comfortable trying out other possibilities in your relationship?

If not, what’s stopping you or getting in the way of you actually trying out other possibilities?

P.S. Winston was totally worth the initial stress!


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I'm Vanessa Marin, a sex therapist and writer specializing in helping you have more fun in the bedroom.

I have bachelor’s degrees in human sexuality and sociology from Brown University, and a master’s degree in counseling psychology from the California Institute of Integral Studies. I’m also a licensed psychotherapist. I’ve been working in the sex therapy field since 2002 and have been featured by The New York Times, O: The Oprah Magazine, Real Simple, and many more.

If you’re interested in improving your sex life, you can work with me via my online courses or personal coaching sessions. I look forward to supporting you in creating the sex life you’ve always wanted!