KERRI SACKVILLE: Are relationship ‘rules’ a red flag?

I quite like rules. Without rules, no-one would pay taxes, everyone would speed, and my teen would party all night. Rules stop our society (and my family) from devolving into chaos. 

But do you need rules for your romantic partners? And what does it say about your relationship if you do?

On TikTok recently, a woman sparked furious debate when she rattled off the list of ‘rules’ she and her partner must follow. These included – but were not limited to - no porn, no strip clubs, no following Instagram models, and always sharing phone passwords and locations.

@giaaldisert controversial things in my relationship #relationship #dating #relationshipadvice #controversial ♬ original sound - gia

Look, all couples have rules. My partner likes the dishwasher stacked a certain way, and he becomes agitated when I haphazardly toss things in. I am a stickler for punctuality, and I become anxious when my partner is late. I know now to place plates neatly in the tray; he knows now to try to be on time.

But these are just behaviours, and adjusting them was part of the learning curve of our relationship. It is perfectly normal to negotiate with your partner on how you want to manage your lives: how you wish to share chores, how you want to socialise, how you plan to parent your kids, and how you can best manage difficult conversations.

And of course, couples argue. We are all imperfect. On Reddit this week, a woman posted about ‘grounding’ her husband when he failed to wash her car. It was a ridiculous fight, but living with another person can be hard. He washed the car, she forgave him, and they both moved on.

Watch: Relationship red flags. Post continues after video.


Video via Mamamia.

But there are some aspects of a partnership that simply cannot be controlled, or managed with rules of behaviour. You cannot legislate for respect in a relationship, and you cannot legislate for trust. If you need to set rules for your partner to trust them and feel respected, you are on a very rocky path indeed.

Trust arises from within a relationship; it can’t be imposed on it. If you trust your partner, you know that you can check their phone, but you also know that you don’t need to. If you don’t trust your partner – because of their behaviour, or your own issues – no rules (‘Shared passwords!’ ‘Shared phone locations!’ ‘No following Instagram models!’) are going to change that. They might briefly reassure you when you do your nightly phone check, but they won’t create deep and abiding security.

Respect, too, arises from a relationship. You can forbid your partner from going to strip clubs, or raiding the household finances, or getting drunk with their mates when they’re supposed to be with the kids. But that’s not going to turn them into a respectful, loving partner. It’s just going to keep a recalcitrant spouse temporarily in line, and leave you exhausted, demoralised, and constantly on alert.


I know. I’ve been there myself. I was married to a man who chose to work seven days a week, who almost never spent time with me and the kids. I tried to set ‘rules’ for our relationship. I tried to enforce family time. It didn’t work, or at least, it never worked for very long.

It is healthy and normal to work with your partner to establish patterns that meet both of your needs. And, of course, some people have challenges that make relationships less intuitive; they might be neurodiverse, they might come from an abusive background, or they might have mental health issues. They might need more support and guidance for the household to run smoothly and the relationship to thrive.

But there has to be a willingness to be a good partner, and a fundamental basis of respect. They must want to genuinely step up and do the right thing. If you need to monitor their behaviour, check their phone, or audit their bank account, you have lost before you’ve even begun. Without trust, no rules are going to make you feel secure. Without respect, no rules are going to make you feel valued. And no healthy person wants to police their partner, or be the de facto parent of their spouse.

Love – healthy, mature love - is a willingness to extend yourself for the benefit of another person. If you need to force your partner to behave, or threaten them with punishment, your relationship is not healthy, and it is probably not love.

Feature Image: TikTok/@gia.

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