Relationship and Rules

Posted by in adult children, Louise Behiel, self help | 14 comments

As discussed Monday, children raised in emotionally empty homes grow up with three rules:

Don’t talk

Don’t trust

Don’t Feel.

It is also true, as mentioned by Lisa Hall Wilson, that living by these rules can be caused by bullying outside the home.  What are the ramifications of loving someone who lives by these rules? How do relationships fare when burdened by these rules?

As usual, I’m going to discuss the far end of the spectrum of living by these rules, to make explanations in this short format a little clearer.

We all live by these rules some of the time; it’s when they form the fabric of how we interact in the world that they are troublesome.

A person living by the ‘don’t talk’ rule will not deal with problems.  They either don’t acknowledge the issues in a relationship or they aren’t even aware of them.  This is typified by the confused look on a guy’s face when a woman says “we have to talk”. He knows she thinks there’s a problem but he has no clue what it is.  I’m not implying only men live by this rule, simply showing how ingrained it is in our culture.

Living by this rule can be exhausting and stressful if the problems are recognized but not dealt with.  People living from this rule often feel ‘give it time and it will work itself out…or not’.  Talking about the issue is seen to  be a waste of time. Remember in the childhood experience, no amount of talking could resolve the problem. As a result, the child learns that communication about an issue is not productive and might even be dangerous.

It is easy to see how a woman, living by this rule, would be at risk for a situation of domestic violence.  Since she’s learned not to talk about problems at home, she would be predisposed to keep silent about the abuse she’s suffering.

The second rule makes falling in love and forming relationships difficult.  Trust is one of the foundations of a healthy relationship; without it the dyad will be empty.  Living by this rule takes a person beyond the trust of fidelity and monogamy. This is the trust that says ‘I believe you will be there for me; that you’ll be in my corner’. This is the trust that says “I know you want what’s best for me and for us’.  This is the trust that acknowledge that you will be here in the long term.

Lack of trust in a relationship is like concrete without rebar: it’s fine for a flat slab that isn’t too big.  But without rebar, building a long term relationship is impossible.  It is not possible for a relationship to mature and deepen with time and experience.

Imagine loving someone but never being able to experience the enrichment of the relationship. Although these relationships can last for years (because people living by these rules tend to find each other) there is always a shallowness to them. A sense of something missing.

The final rule, don’t feel, keeps us isolated, even in a relationship. When we are unable to recognize our own needs it is impossible to get them met.  As a result, we live in a vacuum, unable to get our own needs met.  When we live by this rule, we are denied the fullness of a rich relationship.  We see other couples enjoying something we can’t define but we can recognize as missing in our lives.

Individuals who live by these rules usually end up partnering with others who live by these rules.  Who else would live in the paucity of emotional honesty? The fabric of their relationship is full of holes they don’t see and can’t fix. Ironically when a relationship is not emotionally satisfying, it can still last a long time, but it leaves an opening for addiction to become the silent partner, changing the dyad to a triad.

The children are left with emotionally absent parents who can’t meet their needs.  And the cycle begins again.

Do you see relationships like these?  Have you noticed their shallowness?


  1. You are giving me so much great information! I grew up in the home you describe, with an absent mother who was herself an abuse victim, she just never talked about it. I have just recently been working with a type of counselor who is helping me re-learn new rules for myself as an adult so that I can behave like an adult and stop seeing myself as the powerless child who’s always afraid of getting in trouble. And, I realize how lucky I am to have been able to escape to my dad’s house at times. At least I can trust others and have relationships! It’s myself I have had trouble trusting. Now I want to keep reading to see if there are more old rules I need to get rid of to help me be a happier, more productive adult.

    • I’m glad you’re finding it valuable, Emma. there are other characteristics that we’ll get into in the next few weeks. hopefully they will help as well

  2. All three of those — trust, talk, feel — are things we often take for granted. Thanks for the informative post, Louise.

    • I think those three are the difference between a fulfiling, meaningful relationship and people who live together.

  3. “Lack of trust in a relationship is like concrete without rebar.”

    I’m very much a visual person, so this simile really brought home what you were saying for me. Thanks for a great post.

    • I’m so glad it resonated Marcy. thanks for stopping by

  4. Hi Louise. You offer some really important insight here. I really appreciate your rebar analogy, which makes it clear why these relationships crumble. Even in the best long-term relationships communication can be difficult and stressful, but without the steel reinforcement of communication, emotion, and trust, I can see where dust could be the eventual result.

    • Kecia, I’m glad it made sense — communication, emotion and trust are the strength of every relationship. Have a great Easter.

  5. Yes Louise, definitely. It’s so difficult to have a genuine relationship with someone who can’t trust or let themselves feel.
    Important topic!

    • Thanks Coleen. Funny how many people there are who can’t trust.

  6. Another sad look at a lot of lives. Since I work for a divorce attorney, I see this stuff all the time. (sigh)

    As always, thanks for the information. And I learned a new word – dyad – good one.

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt

    • Oh Patricia, that must be so hard – daily seeing the end of all those hopes and dreams. When I work with couples considering marriage and then again when they have their first, I ask them to write a letter to themselves outlining what they like/love about their partner. and then in the second one, what they love about their partner as a parent. what they see in that first week or two of their child’s life.

      and then I ask for a commitment to take those letters out and read them before meeting with an attorney. Not to save the marriage, but rather to come into it with an open heart and mind, so that civility can rule. our children need that.

  7. Great post. Enjoy the insight. There’s so much I could share.

Leave a Reply to Sheila Seabrook Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.