Do you have an unwritten rule book for life?

Did you answer yes or no?

No matter how you answered the question, to some extent it is true that we all have one. 

We start to write our rules from a very young age. Our rules are based on Values and Beliefs, which come from many different places.  

I have written a blog on Values and Beliefs, which you can find here, but here is a brief recap. 

What is the difference between a value and a belief?

Values are the fundamental beliefs, which govern our lives. 

A belief is an acceptance that something is true. 

Values guide and shape us. They also impact how we see ourselves, others and the world around us. Values affect every decision that we make, what we do, how we react to situations and what we aspire to do in the future. 

Values help us to write our rules and beliefs help us stick to them. 

Here is a simple example: 

If you value a clean and tidy house, then your belief might be that professional women should have a home which is organised, clean and free from clutter. You may have been brought up by a very house-proud mother who did not tolerate mess. She might have told you that a messy house signified a woman who was disorganised and unlikely to succeed in life. 

Your set of rules might include: 

  • All coats must be hung up in the closet 

  • No bags can be left on the hallway floor 

  • All rooms must be dusted and vacuumed every week 

  • No toys can be left overnight on the living room floor 

  • You get the idea… 

 Also note the use of language including should, must and no. These things are serious and require attention. 

If you can easily follow your rules, then you will indeed have a clean and tidy house. A home which lives up to your value and honours your (and your mother’s) belief. 

If you struggle to keep a clean and tidy house, and the rules are not obeyed, then you will probably feel anxious, stressed and angry. You may feel a sense of injustice and question why “people” cannot follow a simple instruction and just do what is expected. 

Our rules usually involve the inclusion of others, and quite often we have a whole unwritten rulebook for everyone else too: 

Ex-partner, children, friends, work colleagues, parents and siblings… 


Problems and friction arise when: 

  • We omit to share our rules with the other person, so they do not know what you expect  

  • We fail to see if the other person is on board or has a different set of rules 

  • We expect rules to be obeyed 100% of the time 

  • We are resistant to change or compromise 

  • We have not agreed a consequence if the rule is not followed 

  • We have not communicated the consequence 

  • We do not follow through with the consequence 

  • Others try to impose their rules on us 

You may find that this resonates with some of the problems you are experiencing in your current relationship, or before you and your partner separated. Being on opposing sides and swept up by the emotion of divorce will serve to magnify these problems.  

Following separation, many of your relationships will have changed and this can be very unsettling. 

Routines which worked well before, might not work as well now. Situations that you controlled before, may suddenly be out of your control. This can create a feeling of chaos and a sense that you are constantly being challenged. Our brains have evolved to perceive this as a threat and our bodies respond to threats by making ready to freeze, fight or run. It is exhausting! 

It does not have to be this way.

 A change in circumstances and living arrangements will require a new rulebook. Even if the old one was not working before, it certainly will not work now. Another way of viewing your new set of rules, is that you are setting boundaries 

You are setting your boundaries, which you will base on your Values and Beliefs. These are the values and beliefs which serve you right now. They do not have to be the old set of rules, which someone else set for you.  

So, take a moment to reflect on what you had hiding in your old Unwritten Rulebook. Now take the time to see if you can set some new boundaries. 

New boundaries, which will stop you feeling anxious and on guard and instead make you feel calm and grounded.