Invisible Scripts and Rules: Why You Act the Way You Do in Relationships

Do you ever wonder why you act the way you do in your relationships?


Maybe you’re wondering how in the world your partner or loved ones act the way they do?


We constantly wonder why someone can be a hugely successful professional during the day and act completely different in an intimate relationship. We truly believe anyone can “look crazy” and out of control in personal relationships. It doesn’t matter if it is with a spouse, boyfriend or with your parents, everyone has the potential to act in ways they could never imagine in personal relationships.


It also seems, the closer the relationship, the more we are able to act in ways we normally wouldn’t. This is why we often feel less in control of how we act in intimate relationships or with our parents or children.


The way you act is mostly determined by what emotional state you’re in. If you’re frustrated, you’re more likely to yell at your boyfriend or snap at your teenager. If you’re in an excited emotional state you’re more likely to act passionate, engage others, and look for ways to have fun.


Your emotional state is how you feel at any given moment. The state you’re in will determine how you act for the most part. For example, if you’re feeling frustrated or angry, you will most likely only have access to frustrated or angry behaviors. If you’re in an anxious emotional state, you will most likely act anxious and nervous.


Most of us believe the way we feel is determined by what is going on around us or what someone else does. While it’s true that people or events in our lives can trigger us to feel a certain way, the way you feel is primarily a result of 3 factors.

  • Body movement and position
  • What you Focus On
  • Inner communication (what you tell yourself, what images you see in your mind, the tone of your inner voice, invisible scripts and rules.)


Today we will be talking about your inner communication and why you act the way you do in relationships


Your emotions and the way you feel is greatly determined by your inner communication or how you internally communicate with yourself about what happens in your life.


If 100 people found out their spouse cheated on them, there would be a variety of emotional reactions to hearing about it.

Some people would be angry, some depressed, some suicidal, some happy, some anxious, some guilty, and some relieved.

Not all 100 people would have the same reaction to finding out their spouse has been cheating on them.

Why the difference?

People feel different emotions to the same experience (finding out they’ve been cheated on) because of how they communicate to themselves about it.


Inner communication consists of

  • What you tell yourself about what happens (the meaning you make of things)
  • The images and movies you see in your mind
  • The tone of your inner voice
  • Invisible scripts and rules

Invisible Scripts and Rules


All the components of your inner communication are integral parts in why you act the way you do in your relationships. Invisible scripts and rules are tricky and powerful, because they are invisible and often can influence you in huge ways without you knowing it.  Invisible scripts and rules make up a large part of your unconscious mind and are constantly running in the background influencing everything you do.


Have you ever had all the information you needed to change something important to you, but for some reason just weren’t able to make it happen?

Have you ever found yourself getting unusually angry at someone and found it difficult to calm down?

Have you ever wanted to make a change, but didn’t feel that it was the right time or circumstances?

In all these cases, invisible scripts and rules were most likely influencing your actions.


Invisible scripts and rules are often limiting and lead you to be in un-resourceful emotional states because

  • They often define what you can and most importantly can’t do
  • They can box you into acting out only one role in life (loving wife, hardworking professional, broke artist)
  • They can limit your potential and blind you from possibilities
  • They can keep you stuck in trying the same unhelpful strategies of improvement over and over
  • They can get you to blame yourself or others
  • They often get you believe that your emotions are controlled by other people or outside events
  • They dictate to you what has to happen for you to feel loved, happy, excited and fulfilled
  • They get you to believe that what’s right for you is what’s right for your loved ones
  • They can make it easy for you to feel upset and difficult for you to feel good

Where Do Invisible Scripts and Rules Come From?


They come from all sorts of sources. Society, religion, your culture, your family and your social circle are all big influences. There is a good chance that your scripts and rules for life are deeply ingrained and they’ve been conditioned and reinforced over the course of many years.


Here are some common invisible scripts and rules depending on your religion, culture, family or social circle

  • Professional women must sacrifice their career or family life and certainly can’t have both
  • Sex before marriage is wrong
  • Adult children must take care of their aging parents
  • You need to focus on your career and then get married or have kids
  • In order for me to feel loved, happy, excited and fulfilled (blank) needs to happen
  • You have to go to college to be successful
  • A loving relationship means never arguing
  • Higher education is a waste of money. It’s better to do manual “real” work
  • A loving relationship means arguing a lot
  • Kids should move out of the house the minute they graduate highschool
  • Working on your emotions is a sign of weakness
  • Sex before marriage is a must. You don’t buy the car before test driving it.
  • You are what you do
  • I shouldn’t have to feel uncomfortable
  • You have to have kids to be fulfilled in life
  • If I want something I must have it now


Albert Ellis, the famous Psychologist and Founder of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, believed there were specific scripts and rules that many of us have in our relationships that lead our un-resourceful emotional states

  1. I must (or should or ought to) perform well and/or be approved by significant others. It is awful (or horrible or terrible) if I don’t. I can’t stand it. I am a pretty rotten person when I fail as I must not.
  2. Other people must treat me considerably and fairly. It is horrible if they don’t. When they fail me, they are bad individuals and I can’t bear them and their crummy behavior.
  3. Conditions must be the way I want them to be, and it is terrible when they are not. I can’t stand living in such an awful world.

Resourceful Scripts and Rules


Now you know why you act the way you do in relationships. As you can see invisible scripts and rules are a big factor in what you or others do in relationships. Sometimes they are helpful and make your relationships stronger. Many times though, they are destructive to both you and those you love.


How to make your invisible scripts and rules work for you instead of against you


1. Think about your scripts and rules. Bring your thinking about people or events in your life out into the open. Write them down. What does it take for you to feel loved, successful, happy, excited, important, or competent?

2. Test your scripts and rules. Take action to prove them right or wrong. Determine whether they’re working for you or against you.

3. Consciously develop resourceful scripts and rules

4. Condition resourceful scripts and rules until they’re your default


When developing new resourceful scripts and rules or testing old ones, test to see if they



  • Are Flexible (not demanding, dogmatic or absolutist)

Resourceful scripts and rules are flexible. They don’t make rigid demands on yourself or other people. If it has a should, shouldn’t, must, mustn’t, or ought to than it is demanding. There is nothing in this world that must or must not happen outside of you eating and drinking water to survive. Everything else is something we WANT, but doesn’t HAVE to happen. Instead make your scripts and rules PREFERENCES. Start with I want….. I like…. I don’t like……. I don’t want…..


  • Are in your control

Most of us have rules in place in order for us to feel good that entirely depend on other people or outside events. If you believe the way you feel is dependent on what someone else does or how someone else reacts to you, then your rule is not in your control. Try changing your scripts and rules so they’re in your control. Start with I feel good when I _______(work out, smile at strangers, greet my spouse with warmth) Anytime I do _________I feel __________


  • Make it easy for you to feel good and difficult to feel upset

What has to happen in order for you to feel good in your relationship? How do you know when to feel happy? Most of us have a long list of things other people need to do for us to feel good in our relationships. This makes it very hard to feel good and easy to feel bad. Instead, have a small list of things that you can easily do each day that are signals for you to feel good.


  • Help you experience healthy and resourceful emotional states

If you’re upset with someone, most likely he or she has violated one of your invisible scripts or rules. Resourceful scripts and rules put you in healthy and resourceful emotional states. If you have conditioned yourself to have resourceful scripts and rules it’s easy for you to feel good, confident, happy, passionate, excited, ecstasy, relaxed, and love.


  • Move you toward your goals or get you the results you’re looking for

If you’re having difficulties staying motivated or achieving your goals, your scripts and rules are holding you back. They should help you stay motivated and cope with the challenges and setbacks of going after you goals.


Examples of Resourceful Scripts and Rules

  • I will have fun no matter what
  • Things happen for a reason
  • I experience love anytime I give love
  • When I appreciate what I have, I feel good
  • There is no such thing as failure, only feedback and results
  • I can choose what I do no matter what
  • I take responsibility for where I’m currently at and don’t blame myself or others for poor results
  • Anytime I I put in the effort I feel confident and am okay with any outcome
  • I want my partner to love me and give me lots of attention, but I can also be happy without it happening
  • I don’t need my partner to give me everything I want, although that would be nice
  • I give myself permission to make myself happy — even if in so doing, others
    make themselves unhappy
  • Poor decisions made in the past do not have to be repeated in the present
  • No matter how bad any event was, I do not have to allow it to continue to have
    a negative influence on my life
  • Having been treated unfairly in the past is all the more reason to treat
    myself fairly in the present
  • What I tell myself today is much more important than what others have told me
    in the past
  • What has happened to me is not nearly as important as what I decide to do with
  • I don’t always have to feel comfortable, and it isn’t awful when I don’t
  • Mistakes and rejections are inevitable. I will work hard at accepting myself
    while hating my mistakes and setbacks
  • My performance at work — perfect or otherwise — does not determine my worth as
    a person
  • Things are rarely as bad, awful, or catastrophic as I imagine them to be
  • I accept who I am, even though I may not like some of my traits and behaviors
  • Doing badly never makes you a bad person — only imperfect. You have a right to
    be wrong
  • Just because I make a mistake does not mean I am a mistake.

Invisible Scripts and Rules: Why You Act the Way You Do in Relationships


Remember, why you act the way you do in relationships is mostly determined by what emotional state you’re in. Your emotional state is influenced by three factors; your body communication, what you focus on, and your inner communication.


Invisible scripts and Rules are a major part of your inner communication and can help you feel good, confident, happy and fulfilled in your relationships.


Here are the four steps to ensuring your invisible scripts and rules improve your relationships


1. Think about your scripts and rules. Bring your thinking about people or events in your life out into the open. Write them down. What does it take for you to feel loved, successful, happy, excited, important, or competent?

2. Test your scripts and rules. Take action to prove them right or wrong. Determine whether they’re working for you or against you.

3. Consciously develop resourceful scripts and rules

4. Condition resourceful scripts and rules until they’re your default


Conditioning your new scripts and rules is very important. You will probably have to consciously rehearse and tell yourself these new scripts for quite some time until they become your default reaction to things. You most likely have been conditioning your other scripts for many years so they won’t change overnight, but with consistent conditioning it will happen.


Say Yes to Love,

Dr. Michael Arn & Dr. Ashley Arn