There are a countless number of relationship-advice books out there. Going to a bookstore, going to the “love & marriage” section can feel overwhelming. There are probably some sage pieces of advice put into these books, but nobody has the time to go through every single one of them. I recently came across an article by a woman about to be married, who collected what she thought were the best pieces of relationship advice from a wide array of sources, from researchers to her grandmother. The list of tidbits below might feel eclectic, but the author does make some interesting points:
Regularly compliment: For nearly 30 years, relationship expert Terri Orbuch has been conducting research following 373 married couples. She’s discovered that couples who regularly give each other “affective affirmation”, such as compliments, encouragement, help and support are the happiest. According to Orbuch, men actually crave affective affirmation more than women, since women typically get it from people other than their husbands.
Forget about bills: Orbuch has found that the happy couples in her study talked to each other frequently about things other than their relationship. She recommends setting aside about 10 minutes every day to talk about anything other than work, family, the household or the relationship. For example, ask what your partner’s favorite movie is, what a happy memory from their childhood was, or what they want to be remembered for. Such small change infuses relationships with new life.
Mix things up: In Orbuch’s study, she found that couples who felt bored or were in a relationship rut tended to be less happy over time, so mixing things up can help you to escape that rut. Such changes can be small, but they have to upset the routine enough to make your partner take notice. According to anthropologist Helen Fisher, novelty drives up the dopamine system in the brain, which can help sustain feelings of romantic love.
Stay positive: Fisher says that when you’re feeling irritated about your partner, resist the urge to think of the things you don’t like and focus on the good. Psychologist Harriet Lerner agrees, saying that nobody can happily survive in a marriage if they feel more judged than admired.
Look for the soft emotion: Stephanie Coontz, author of of “Marriage, a History”, says that marriage counselor she’s spoken with look for the “soft” emotion lying beneath the hard one. Therefore, respond to the soft emotion, such as fear, anxiety or embarrassment that hides behind anger or accusation. This piece of advice extends to all relationships, not just marriage.
Live your own life: Harriet Lerner emphasizes the importance of independence in a marriage; connect with friends and family, pursue your own interests and help others. If your primary energy isn’t directed to living your own life, then you’ll be over-focused on your partner in a worried or critical way.
Don’t wait for the mood: Fisher advises to stay intimate with your partner on a regular basis, even if you’re not in the mood; you shouldn’t always expect to be overcome by desire. Regular sex stimulates the dopamine system to sustain feelings of romantic love.
Pick a good lover: It’s important to note that a good lover isn’t necessarily somebody with exceptional skills, but rather somebody who brings the right attitude to the bedroom.
Don’t be too idealistic: While writing “Looking for Love in the Age of Divorce”, Dana Adam Schapiro traveled across the country asking divorcees for marriage advice. He said that one of the best pieces of advice he came across was from one interviewee, who said that the utter grandeur and magnificence of what actually is gets overshadowed by disappointment that it isn’t what people fantasize it to be. He says the best you can hope for is somebody who will respect you and go through life and be honest with you.