One of our favorite things to do when we go out is sit at a bar, have a drink and meal there. Very often we will strike up conversations with the bartender or folks sitting near us. The other night we met a fellow named Colin. He was a very friendly guy in his 30’s and eating alone. You could tell he was a talker. Cocktails in hand, we chatted with him for a while. It turns out that Colin is a farmer from Maryland’s eastern shore and retired from the military. Colin joined the military after his father died and having had an unsuccessful semester or two at the local community college. “College just wasn’t for me,” Colin told us.

Colin met his wife through friends and they have been married for seven years and have a six-year-old daughter. So why was Colin sitting at the bar and eating by himself? He told us that he and his wife take a few separate vacations during the year and that the time apart has worked for them. Colin also mentioned that early in their marriage he and his wife argued constantly and it “just sucked.” 

Colin then told us what he did to save his marriage. Out of desperation he went to his wife, told her that they would both pick 10 rules to live by in their marriage. If that didn’t help, then the two of them would call it quits. She agreed, they picked their 10 rules, stuck to them and the marriage got better. One of Colin’s rules required his wife to have sex with him three times a week (we were impressed his wife agreed to that) and one of her rules called for Colin to empty the trash everyday, even if it wasn’t full. 

After Colin paid his bill and took off, the two of us could not help but smile.  We were both thinking the same thing and we knew it, without saying a word to each other.  Here was a guy that was anything but “book smart” who didn’t need a book, a counseling session or couples retreat to figure out how to keep his marriage together.  At its essence, Colin’s 10-rule plan really was simple.  Simple and brilliant.  Two partners in a relationship and both agree to do things solely because the other wants it. It’s the oldest adage in the book – “I wash your hand, you wash mine” – and our farmer friend applied it in a unique way to help his marriage.

People who are selfish and inflexible within their relationship often end up talking to Julie. One wants to go to the Caps game, the other doesn’t.  One likes getting dressed and going for a nice dinner on weekends; the other, not so much. It doesn’t take a lawyer and a therapist to tell you that if, as a couple, you cant find middle ground and compromise, you wont be in the therapist’s office for very long.  You will be in the lawyer’s office.

We enjoyed talking to Colin and found that his “10 Rules” approach to maintaining his relationship was a creative and intelligent example of how couples can work together to stabilize and improve their relationship. What do you think of Colin’s approach to making it work? Have you done anything in your relationship that’s been creative?

Julie and David Bulitt, a licensed clinical social worker and divorce lawyer, have been married for 33 years. Their new book, THE 5 CORE CONVERSATIONS FOR COUPLES, will be published by Skyhorse Publishing and Simon & Schuster e-books in February 2020.