The practice of marriage spans thousands of years, with the first recorded evidence of a marriage ceremony between one man and one woman dating to 2350 B.C. in Mesopotamia. Unsurprisingly, there are a vast array of opinions on what makes a marriage successful. But much of traditional wisdom is not based on fact, and can even be harmful to your relationship. This post explores four common pieces of advice that can lead couples astray.
Never go to bed angry.
This saying has become cliched, exalted in home decoration signs, wedding vows, and song lyrics. It seems to make sense on the surface, after all, many of us end up lying in bed and thinking about better responses we could have made, nitpicking over what our partner said in the heat of the moment, and being too emotionally wound up to peacefully drift off.
But this well-meaning advice can make couples feel pressured to solve their problem before bed, and if they can’t, they’ve failed. Not only is the pressure unhelpful, but it’s likely that both of you are tired and now concerned and/or resentful about the amount of sleep you’re losing by having this argument, all of which doesn’t create a good environment to have a rational, open-hearted discussion.
Often, the best course of action in a fight that’s going nowhere is to call a time-out. This gives both parties the opportunity for their bodies to calm down physiologically. Once cortisol levels and heart rates get back to normal, couples can communicate more respectfully and rationally. It also gives them the chance to question any incorrect theories and beliefs they are holding of their partner that don’t serve the well-being of the relationship.
So, if you’re enmeshed in an unending late-night argument perhaps the most effective thing you and your partner can do is to call it quits and discuss it the next morning, with a more rational mind and different perspective.
Shared interests support connectedness.
Think back to your first date, did you both talk about activities you find fun and enjoyable? Were you ever slightly worried if they didn’t match up? Or were you happy to find out that you shared similar interests?
While it may seem like common sense that couples who spend time doing fun stuff together will reap various benefits such as feeling more connected, and creating memories, there are nuances to this piece of advice.
What’s important is not that couples take part in activities together- it’s the quality of their interaction within the activity. Even if both partners enjoy skiing, there will be no positive return from doing it together if one is constantly critiquing the other’s slalom technique. Research shows that criticism, even of skiing ability, is a highly destructive behavior that predicts eventual separation. A better way to increase the feeling of being connected is to increase positive interactions and minimize negative ones. Don’t try and share interests if you or your partner aren’t able to control negative reactions and responses- it’ll only lead to disaster.
A ‘relationship contract' is a useful tool for a successful marriage.
Part of having a successful relationship is doing good things for your partner and pulling your weight, ideas that are resulting in many couples creating a contract outlining anything from chores to sex to finances and to expectations of what the future will look like.
While it may seem like a good idea for both parties to be aware of each other’s desires and expectations and to formally agree to them, there is no scientific basis for having relationship contract. In fact, in 1977 Bernard Murstein found that when marriage is centered around reciprocity, it doesn’t thrive. When couples keep track of what each other’s bringing to the relationship, they’re actually keeping score and this can cause resentment.
A ‘quid pro quo’ expectant mentality is a relationship killer. What ends up happening is that the nice things that partners do for each other end up having contracts attached, with the expectation that they should end up receiving something equally nice back. Their partner might not be able to repay their kindness for a variety of reasons - things come up with the kids, or they have to stay late at work. The other partner gets disappointed and resentful that their kindness has not been repaid and gives less in the future. When they give less, their partner also gives less- it’s a vicious cycle. Instead of giving to get, it’s better for couples to give with an open heart and the knowledge that if their partner is a good partner, they will be getting good stuff back.
Affairs are the top reason why marriages fail.
Many people believe that the main reason why relationships end is because one person goes outside the couple for attention, be it physical or emotional. But is it really as clear-cut as that?
The fall-out from an affair is devastating, and the wounds it causes can affect people for years, even decades, to come. Frequently once the affair is discovered, the hurt partner will put all the blame on the other, and will feel self-righteous in their indignation and anger. After all, did they not vow to stay faithful through sickness and in health?
But it’s not as simple as that- it takes two to tango. In our busy world, we can find it hard to put time aside to grow ourselves and our relationship. Date nights become scarcer, anniversaries aren’t celebrated, and it can be tough to be in the mood for sex at 11pm after a hard day at the office. Almost every time an affair happens, there were significant issues in the marriage before it started. A good husband or wife in a fulfilling marriage won’t go out and cheat just because of forbidden attraction. They do it because they don’t feel close to their partner and their not getting the attention they need. The Divorce Mediation Project backs that up with 80% of divorced couples attributing the separation to the loss of connectedness. Only 20-17% believe the affair itself was the root cause of the divorce.
Couples need to be mindful in how they act towards one another, and show up fully through acts of kindness and an open heart. It’s hard work but if both of you are committed, a successful marriage is one of the most rewarding experiences.
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