A society with no rules. We've seen it in movies and TV, and many of us fantasize about the ability to break a law without repercussions. But at the same time, we know that most rules, boundaries, and guidelines in our society exist for good reason. There's a silent contract of expectations – and there are consequences for breaking those expectations. When you enter a store, there's an expectation that you're there to buy and not to steal. And a red light is enforced because if even a few of us ignore it, many of us could die.
So, when it comes to society, the rules are often cut and dry. But what about the rules and boundaries of a romantic relationship? Just like in society, clear-cut expectations can serve to help us avoid unintended consequences.
In more traditional partnerships, the most obvious rule is romantic/sexual commitment. If the rule of infidelity is broken, the consequence can be irreparable damage. At the same time, and interestingly, partners in open relationships often have more rules and better communication about their lives outside of home life. Even still, lines can be crossed, expectations can be shattered, and a healing process must begin.
What do you do when you feel as though an established boundary has been crossed? Do both parties know the rule was broken? And can the relationship dynamic be repaired through communication? Here are some steps to take:
Step 1: Find Out If They Think They Crossed a Line
The first step is establishing that your partner knows they crossed a line. Was it a misunderstanding, or an intentional breach of contract? If they didn't realize their misdeed, it's possible that the boundary needs to be reestablished and redefined. Take the time to discuss your understanding of the rule and get on the same page.
But if it was an intentional breach?
Step 2: Try to Understand Why They Did It
If your partner understood it was over the line and did it anyway, ask them why they moved forward with their action. They might not know why they did it. But they also may. And if they're able to share their reasoning, this is an opportunity to deep dive into their answer. It can be useful for both this partnership and any other in the future to gain more understanding – both for you and them.
Step 3: Express Why It Hurt You
Try to let them know how their actions affected you without being judgmental. When we're hurt, our gut reaction can be to retaliate and tear the person down. That's not necessary or productive, even if it feels good in the moment. Instead, use language like, "When you did X, Y, and Z, it really hurt because it broke the trust I thought we had established. And now we need to find a way to build it back up."
And If You're the Rule Breaker…
Even if it was unintentional, it's important to acknowledge how your partner feels. Remember, their truth is theirs, and yours is yours. Do not negate their truth. Support it and ask how you can move forward from the issue together – and, ideally, stronger than before.
How to Move Forward
Ultimately, a broken rule boils down to broken trust. Our bodies don’t know how to separate levels of broken trust, so they all feel severe. To repair, it's necessary to overcommunicate about understanding the reaction of the hurt party, then accepting a plan to move forward from the injury. Consistency and transparency are the keys to rebuilding trust, and it is not something that happens overnight. If you want to repair, give it time and patience.