Marriage Partner’s Bill of Rights

When I was twenty-something I was taught, “Yield your rights; focus on your responsibilities.”

The second half of this saying has merit; there is no virtue in being irresponsible.

But the first half of this saying requires some finesse. Over the years I’ve paid too little attention to the idea of rights. This is odd since our constitution includes a Bill of Rights, I grew up watching TV cops read criminals their rights, and even the Bible scolds kings who, “deprive the oppressed of their rights.”

This deficit in my thinking became painfully obvious years ago while working with enmeshed, codependent, high conflict couples trampling each other’s rights. For years I gently nudged partners to embrace their responsibilities while ignoring the equally important notion of defending one’s rights. To correct this imbalance I invite couples to read and respond to the following.

 

 A Marriage Partner’s Bill of Rights

1.  My partner has the right to feel good about him/herself in spite of me and my problems. Just because I feel miserable that doesn’t mean my partner should feel that way, too. My partner doesn’t have to be oriented toward fixing things for me.

I have the right to feel good about myself in spite of my partner’s problems. I care about how my partner feels but I’m not expected or obligated to fix his/her problems for him/her, or to feel badly just because he/she feels bad badly.

2.  My partner has the right to express his/her feelings and share his/her pain. I do not have to take his/her expression of feelings personally, feel guilty, at fault, or blamed.

I have a right to express my feelings and share my pain. I will do so respectfully. My partner does not have to take what I say personally, feel guilty, at fault, or accept blame just because I give it.

3.  My partner has a right to his/her dislikes and doesn’t always have to please me or to sell him/herself short. It is all right for my partner to have his/her own tastes, whether they are the same as mine or not.

I have the right to my likes/dislikes and don’t always have to please my partner or to sell myself short. It’s all right for me to have tastes that are different from those of my partner.

4.  My partner has a right to pursue his/her own interests and hobbies. It may be necessary for us to negotiate time and money issues together.

I have a right to my own interests and hobbies and the right to pursue them. It may be necessary for us to negotiate time and money issues together.

5.  My partner has a right to be whoever he/she is and doesn’t have to change to pacify me. This includes the right to do his/her tasks in his/her way without being discounted. I can learn to tolerate and appreciate his/her difference from me, rather than to have to convert him/her to my way of thinking, doing, and living in every way.

I have the right to be whoever I am and don’t have to change to pacify my partner. This includes a right to do my tasks in my own way without being discounted by criticism that I am stupid, inefficient, or the like. My partner can learn to appreciate my differences from him/her, rather than have to convert me to his/her way of thinking.

6.  My partner has a right to say “no” to things that violate his/her values and deep needs and to things he/she feels infringe on his/her rights as a person. If I disagree strongly on these issues I will use fair fighting rules and honest expression of feelings over time to work them out rather than trying to use power, intimidation, and pressure to get my way. I understand that difficult issues need time to work out smoothly.

I have a right to say “no” to things that violate my values and deep needs and to things I feel infringe on my rights as a person. If my partner and I disagree strongly on these issues I have the right to be treated fairly and with respect, and to have the time I need to work through these issues with him/her.

7.  My partner has the right to be human and make mistakes. In fact, his/her mistakes can help me recognize that we are both human, and that I make mistakes, too. I will do my best to leave his/her mistakes in the past.

I have the right to be human and make mistakes. I do not have to be perfect to be loveable.

8.  My partner has the right to be treated with respect. He/she does not deserve to be yelled at, sworn at, called names, put down, discounted, or criticized. If I should feel discounted, I will not respond by doing the same thing back but look carefully at my own behavior first. Only after I am very sure that I am not discounting or disrespecting him/her verbally or non verbally will I respectfully challenge the behaviors I feel he/she uses that are disrespectful to me.

I have the right to be treated with respect. I do not deserve to be yelled at, sworn at, called names, discounted, or criticized. I have the right to not tolerate abuse if my partner fails to treat me respectfully on a regular basis.

9.  My partner has a right to be listened to and taken seriously. I will not dismiss what he/she has to say as “the same old thing,” or to stop listening in the middle of a discussion. I will not interrupt or spend time just thinking about what to say back to my partner. I will take a “time out” if I need one, but not just leave or ignore my partner.

I have the right to be listened to and taken seriously. However, I will not expect my partner to be perfect. If I feel I haven’t been heard I will find an appropriate time to respectfully restate myself without attacking.

10.  My partner has the inherent right to feel worthwhile and valuable. I will not discount who he/she is but spend my time looking positively for his/her strengths so that I can point them out appropriately and appreciatively. I will find times to praise my partner without diluting my praise with criticism.

I have the right to feel worthwhile and valuable. I will not discount who I am, but spend my time looking positively for my strengths, rather than depending on my partner to support my sense of self. I will find times to praise myself without diluting my praise with criticism.

There are times when defending your rights is the right thing to do. Hopefully this Bill of Rights will help.

1989 Patricia S. Potter-Efron, Based on Ed Ramsey’s Bill of Rights for Concerned Persons
Letting Go of Anger Workshop, © Ronald Potter-Efron
First Things First, 2125 Heights Drive, Eau Claire, WI 54701 (715-832-8432)
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