Most relationship “rules” just don’t work. Here’s how to make your own.

August 11,2020

Last month we talked all about the “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts” that we all have when it comes to sex.

Unfortunately, “shoulds” don’t just show up in the bedroom.

They also infiltrate our relationships. 

How many of the following have you heard (or said to yourself) at some point in your life: 

“Why are you single? You should be in a relationship!”

“Are the two of you ‘official’ yet?”

“When are you getting married?”

“When are you getting promoted?”

“When are you having kids?”

“When are you having another child?”

“When are you getting the house with the white picket fence?”

From a very early age, we’re taught to believe that relationships should unfold in a very specific way, and on a very specific timeline. 

Depending on how you were raised, you may have been taught things like:

It’s exhausting!

So this month we’re going to talk about how to break out of the mold and create a relationship on your own terms, with your own rules. 

A relationship that will feel a hell of a lot more exciting and fulfilling than the one you may have been pressuring yourself to have. 

First, let’s talk about why the heck you should even listen to Xander and me when it comes to this topic. 

We were both raised to believe the same kind of BS that you have, and we both internalized it on a pretty deep level. 

In particular, I was a total perfectionist who really liked doing things the way I thought they were supposed to be done. 

We met when we were pretty young, and were one of the first of our friends to get married. We bought an apartment, we got a dog, we wanted kids, Xander was climbing the corporate ladder, and I was getting my psychotherapy practice off the ground. 

To be completely honest, we egotistically felt like we had a leg up on a lot of other people our age because we had hit so many milestones so quickly. We were doing everything we were “supposed” to be doing.

And yet…

It didn’t feel quite right. 

Life just wasn’t as satisfying as we thought it should be. 

We were doing everything “right.” 

“Shouldn’t it feel better than this?”, we both secretly wondered. 

It all came to a very dramatic head when Xander finally broke down and told me he wasn’t happy living in San Francisco and commuting down to Mountain View every single day to work at Google. He wanted to quit his high-paying corporate job that looked incredible on paper (with no plans of what he would do next), pack up our lives in SF (where we’d lived for a decade), and try living abroad.

I was absolutely terrified to make such huge changes. After a lifetime of doing everything I thought I was “supposed” to do, and even though I wasn’t fully happy with the results, the idea of breaking out of the mold seemed impossibly scary. 

But we did it! And since then, we’ve done things like:

These experiences have transformed our relationship from a great but pretty ordinary relationship into something truly extraordinary. 

Instead of just blindly following society’s expectations of us, we’ve gotten crystal clear on what we want for our relationship and for our lives

Sometimes that lines up with what “everyone else” is doing, and sometimes it doesn’t. 

Sometimes we “break the rules” in teeny tiny ways, and sometimes we do it in enormous ways. 

And now, we want to share how that’s possible for you too!

Now, we’re not saying you need to start your own company and move abroad right this second. (Though we definitely have some tips for you if you want to do that!)

But we do want to help you get more clarity on how to make your relationship feel more authentic and fulfilling. 

We believe this is especially important right now, with all the uncertainty in the world. COVID has been a wakeup call to a lot of people that the “normal” ways of doing things might not be working anymore.

So here’s what we want to invite you to consider today:

What rules were you taught to believe about relationships?

And are those “rules” serving you?

Take some time separately or together to write a list. Think about the example that your parents or guardians set. What your culture or religion taught you. Things you picked up on from TV, movies, and books. 

Here are some other possibilities to get you started. What were you taught to believe about:

Then, for each belief, take a moment to think about whether that’s truly what you want right now for your relationship or for your life. 

For example, maybe your mom never expressed her opinions, and always defaulted to letting your dad make decisions for the family. And you now find yourself falling into the same role with your partner. Is that working for you? Is that the kind of dynamic you genuinely want to have? 

These examples don’t all need to be negative either. One of the messages we were both taught about relationships was that you’re supposed to be a team. And that’s one of our favorite aspects of our relationship. It’s a “rule” that we’re happy to follow!

What do you feel like you’re expected to do in your relationship? Does it feel like any of these expectations might be holding you back? What’s definitely not working for you? 

P.S. While we typically talk about sex and relationships in these weekly emails, we’ve also radically transformed our own lives when it comes to work, finances, and travel. If you’re interested in learning more about how we’ve done some of these things, click here. We’re working on building more resources, and we’ll send you more detailed and actionable information in the future!

P.P.S. Did you know we have a YouTube channel? We’re posting brand new videos every week!


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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!