My Personal 12 Commandments

Recently there was a complaint that there were not enough positive posts around here, so I thought I would do one.  I recently read a book called The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin.  It's really good, and has a neat framework for thinking about small ways you can create more happiness in your life.  One of the things she did was to create her "12 Commandments," or her personal rules/values to live by.  So I thought I would make my own and share them here.  Please keep in mind that living these commandments is a work-in-progress for me, but they do give me some guideposts to live by, and it really helped to write them down.

1.  Put love first.  I got this one from the Marriage Fitness program that I listen to, and Mort Fertel's theory is that the things we hate about our spouses are the same things we fell in love with; the only thing that has changed is our love.  In other words, when we're "in love," we see everything rosy, and then when that starts fading, we start getting annoyed.  It's a little more complicated in ADD relationships, since some of the changes are very real after the hyperfocus stage, but it's true that when we were first dating, I was much more willing to forgive and accept because my love outweighed my resentment.  Got to get back there, and put love first over being right, annoyed, etc.

2.  Seek first to understand.  This one is HARD, especially since my husband has a tendency to say inflammatory things when he's mad, which makes me very reactionary.  But part of what I'm working on is creating a space between the stimulus (something my husband says/does) and my response, so that my response is consistent with who I want to be.  Part of this is ignoring or putting aside the "trigger" and trying to understand where my husband is coming from.  I'd say I've been successful with this about 25% of the time, which is not great, but it has almost always resulted in a de-escalation and positive outcome.

3.  Find explanations in charity.  This is from the Happiness Project, and is a quote from Montaigne or Samuel Johnson or some other famous person.  Basically, I realized that I tend to interpret things in a way that fit with my current idea of who my husband is.  If he doesn't take out the trash, he doesn't love ME.  Finding explanations in charity means interpreting his failure to take out the trash with his being overwhelmed, or forgetting because he's too distracted, or some other reason that supports his good intentions.  It also makes me reflect on a lot of evidence that points to the fact that he DOES care -- by calling, helping with kids, wanting to share something with me, etc., so that my charitable explanation for his shortcoming is more supportable.

4.  Be the change you want to see.  You've got to love Gandhi.  I think of this when I find myself thinking that my husband "should" do this or that.  The only thing I can change is myself, and be an example of how a spouse should be.  Hopefully, this will inspire him to reflect on himself and change as well.  If not, I'm still a better person as a result of my own changes.

5.  Make time.  This one is for myself.  I blame a lot of my lack of time on my husband not helping, having all the responsibility, etc.  However, as he started to help more, I realized that I still had no time for myself -- pretty typical for a working mom with two preschool kids!  So I decided I needed to make time based on my life as it is, my husband or anyone else can't do it for me.  Some of my actions in this area include going to bed early/waking up early; cutting out a LOT of TV; using the card file system from Sidetracked Home Executives to make sure I am optimizing every block of "free" time, no matter how small (I've realized I can get a good workout in my own basement in about 25 minutes), and to outsource things that I can.  I also schedule an "indulgence" for myself once every week -- lunch with a friend, pedicure, massage, etc. which has changed my life for the better.  I've realized that if something is truly important, you'll find time for it.

6.  Smile.  I used to do this a lot more.  A marriage counselor my husband and I saw pointed out that it's impossible to have negative thoughts while you're smiling.  (Try it, it's true.)  I try to smile for 30 seconds when I first wake up in the morning.  I also try to smile at people who piss me off (and also go back to #3).  It makes a difference in your day.

7.  Act from a place of abundance.  I'm pretty good at this one.  This is the idea that when you give something to others as if you have more than enough already, more comes back to you.  For example, many people who tithe or donate a lot of money to charity say that they began *getting* a lot of money out of nowhere (sudden promotion, windfall, etc.).  I think this is true of a lot of things -- I try to give people who work for and around me as much credit and recognition as I can...and find that as a result, the spotlight comes back on me more than if I were to jealously hoard all of the credit to begin with.  Doing this with love is a little trickier -- it's hard to convince yourself that you already have all the love you need, if you've been feeling that you lack it for a long time.  But I think there's breakthrough potential here.

8.  Do a little every day.   This is related to #5.  Nothing happens overnight -- small efforts over a long time results in big changes.  So every day I try to do a little -- exercise, read, etc.  Also, I try to focus on the small changes my husband has made, rather than focusing on the big picture, which is depressing because we still have a long way to go.  And I give myself permission to make small changes myself; I'm not going to transform overnight, either.

9.  Give your needs met.  Another gem from Mort Fertel and Marriage Fitness (if you're interested, you can get free emails at -- they're worth it!).  This is about not keeping score.  When I stop focusing on myself for one minute, I realize that my husband has been asking for things that I have not given him, out of resentment, or exhaustion, or whatever.  Most of them are not unreasonable, and I can do a better job of meeting his needs, rather than always focusing on my own needs that are going unmet.  Again, if I come from a place of abundance, this does not have to be a "loss" for me.  And if my husband feels valued and understood, he's more likely to reciprocate.

10.  Don't bring up the past.  SO HARD.  I am lawyer, so in any argument I tend to want to bring up "evidence," which usually involves a parade of wrongs from the past.  BAD IDEA.  I've tried to reframe this and see that by bringing up the past, I'm allowing it to continue controlling me, rather than having control of my own life.  Hard to let go, but it has to be done.

11.  Act the way you want to feel.  This has popped up in so many places (including on this forum) that I feel like this is a special cosmic message just for me.  I find that if I act more loving, or connected, or like soul mates...we actually start to be so.  The key is for me to resist the temptation to act on how I *actually* feel (hurt, resentful, petulant, etc.) and instead take the "fake it 'till you make it" approach.  It works.

12.  Be me.  This is about connecting with who I know myself to be.  I used to be a person who was really funny, and made people laugh.  A lot.  I used to love to dance and sing karaoke.  I loved to socialize.  I need to uncover all these aspects of myself that have become buried under hurt and anger, and in doing so, I'll be able to be the person my husband fell in love with again.

I hope this is helpful/inspiring to others -- please share your commandments, if you have any (everyone's will be different!).