Knowing The Rules Of The Road


Personal, emotional and behavioral problems can occur anywhere and at any time.

Why? Because any setting, place or environment where people are found qualifies as a relationship and all relationships have rules.

These rules, or demands, are made up of the expectations each person has of the others in terms of how they should act while in that relationship and all it takes is for one person to violate these expectations or rules and problems will happen.

Here’s a story that may help to clarify this concept.

Allison felt good.

In order to enjoy a leisurely work-free weekend, all she needed to do was to get her new car registered.

Standing in a long line at the motor vehicle department (DMV), she became distracted while checking her text messages and didn’t realize that the line in front of her had moved forward and there was a gap between her and the person in front of her. Suddenly a young man came from out of nowhere and stepped in front of her.

“Hey you can’t do that.” She insisted. “You can’t just jump in line.”

If he heard her, he didn’t let on.

Others in line behind Allison began to voice their complaints, too.. Finally, a very tall and muscular man, standing immediately behind Allison, wearing on his clothes the dirt and grime from his day job, suggesting he was no stranger to doing unpleasant things, tapped the young intruder on the shoulder and said:

“You’ll have to go to the back of the line.”

After taking-in the other man’s size and weight, the young intruder, wisely stepped away and moved to the end of the line. 

Now, there were no signs in the DMV telling people how to behave when waiting for service. However, most of the people in that environment knew exactly how to behave; doing so with implied agreement from each other.

So, why did the young man “jump” the line. There are at least two possible reasons. The first is that he was unaware of the demands or rules of the situation - you enter at the back of the line and don’t cut in front of others. A second reason is that he was aware of the expectations of others in that situation, but jumped the line anyway.


What the story illustrates is, that no matter the type of situations, environments, or relationships you should find yourself in, each has its own demands. In a previous articleSo What’s Really the Problem—I itemized some of the more popular relationships. You’ll recall these relationships are: Parent-child; Teacher-student; Friends; Intimate; Extended family; Work; Societal; Relationship with self and relationships with things.

When these relationships are working they can benefit you in many ways. They help you live longer, enjoy better physical health and make you happier.

When they aren’t working as they should, because their demands or rules are not met, they not only contribute to your poor health and earlier death, they can also cause personal, emotional and behavioral problems. In short, relationships are the soil in which your health and happiness as well as the roots of your personal, emotional and behavioral problems are embedded.

What this all boils down to is this: there is no problem that occurs outside of your relationships. So when you are experiencing a personal, emotional, and behavioral problem you must first look to relationships and their demands as the source of the problem.


©2023. Dr. Thomas A. Houle. All rights reserved.