Word to the wise (or couples who want to stay married): Just because certain relationship advice is popular doesn’t mean it’s worth applying to your own marriage.
Below, marriage therapists share seven pieces of advice you’d be better off ignoring.
1. Never go to bed angry.
Go ahead and go to bed angry. If you or your spouse are exhausted, it’s better to save that heavy conversation for the morning, when you have the emotional bandwidth to handle it. If you’re sleep deprived, you’re more likely to get emotional and less likely to respond in calm, grownup way. Indeed, studies have shown that the brain’s emotional centers are more reactive when we’re sleep deprived.
“Bringing up a difficult topic before bed isn’t usually productive and often ends in disappointment or heated conflict,” said Elizabeth Earnshaw, a therapist based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. “Take the night to sleep on it, allowing yourself to calm down and your partner to be well rested for the big conversation. You can re-approach it during a time that is better for you both.”
2. You shouldn’t have to censor yourself around your partner.
Being 100 percent honest with your partner will almost inevitably cost you, said Bonnie Ray Kennan, a psychotherapist based in Torrance, California.
“While it’s true that emotional self-disclosure is a necessary component of any good relationship, people often take it as permission to share in a boundary-less way,” she said. “Therapy has taught couples that they need to express their feelings but sometimes they overshare.”
For instance, if you can’t stand your sister-in-law, hold back in saying as much. Self-edit and offer your criticism in a constructive way. Say, “Your sister has a habit of just dropping by. I wish she’d call ahead more often.”
If you say it too bluntly, your spouse will feel overwhelmed, not closer and more connected, Kennan said. “Emotional self-disclosure is a powerful tool but couples need to learn how to do it in a respectful way.”
3. Relationships are supposed to be hard.
Sure, relationships take work but it shouldn’t be downright exhausting to maintain your marriage, said Marie Land, a psychologist in Washington, D.C.
“I see this statement get people into trouble by them staying in relationships that are not serving them or contributing to their happiness,” she said. “Yes, it’s normal to argue from time to time and to go through rough periods. However, your relationship at its baseline should be one that strengthens each of you most of the time.”
4. When in doubt, just say, “Yes, dear, you’re right.”
More often than not, this advice is directed at men, said Gal Szekely, founder of the Couples Center for therapy in Northern California. He’s seen firsthand how damaging it can be when men in relationships feel the need to hold back their feelings and accept the status quo in their marriage.
“There’s a common myth that men are not as emotional as women, meaning that they don’t show their emotions and can’t respond to their partner’s emotions,” he said. “Mendo get emotionally overwhelmed but in order to maintain their composure, they shut down their emotions and just go along with things.”
Men ― and their partners ― need to do a better job of encouraging an open, ongoing dialogue about how they’re feeling, Szekely said.
“Instead of assuming your partner is fine with something, learn how to read more subtle cues that your partner just felt hurt, criticized or upset,” he said.
5. Once a cheater, always a cheater.
When we assume a couple can’t overcome an affair, we deeply underestimate people’s capacity for change. Plus, “once a cheater, always a cheater” simply isn’t true, Earnshaw said.
“Cheating is often indicative of a deeper issue within the relationship but it isn’t necessarily a repetitive behavior or a character flaw,” she said. “I’ve worked with many couples that have been able to overcome infidelity, emerging with a healthier, happier and more genuine marriage.”
6. Be with someone who loves you more than you love them.
This is fear-based advice, plain and simple, Land said. The thinking behind it is that if you care more for your partner than they care for you, they’ll be less inclined to leave you. But people who subscribe to this advice usually have deeper insecurities to grapple with, she said.
“It’s an attempt to be the person in control and who has all the power,” she said. “It can be an effort to ultimately remain less vulnerable to betrayal. Unfortunately, love and relationships are synonymous with vulnerability and there are no guarantees. What starts as an attempt to feel safe can leave a person feeling just plain dissatisfied.”
7. Put your kids before your marriage.
Obviously parents need to consider their children’s needs but telling a couple they should put their kids before their marriage is flawed advice, Earnshaw said.
“When parents become hyper-focused on their children, they lose other points of connection,” she said. “You married your spouse first and the children came second. Be on his or her side, take time for dates and consult with each other about the children.”
This more level-headed advice will serve you well as a couple and ultimately benefit your kids, Earnshaw explained.
“In the end, your children will get to see their parents in a supportive and loving marriage and you’ll be less likely to struggle with empty-nest syndrome,” she said.
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