Plug your ears, ladies.
Let’s get one thing straight: Even the healthiest of couples have plenty of not-so-stellar moments. So just because you’re going through a tough time doesn’t mean you’re headed for divorce. And you probably just want some advice that will actually make a difference. The bad news is that a lot of the wisdom being tossed around by friends over a hefty glass of wine isn’t exactly the best. Of course they mean well, but that doesn’t mean you should listen to it. Seriously.
“Women tend to be quick to offer their opinion, particularly when it comes to relationship advice, regardless of their expertise or state of mind,” says Laurel House, relationship expert and author of Screwing the Rules: The No-Games Guide to Love.“And while having a girlfriend as a sounding board is great and can help bring clarity to a problem, talking to the wrong people at the wrong time–and taking their insight as fact instead of opinion—can not only steer you wrong, but completely derail your marriage.”
In other words, next time you hear these words and pause to consider it as sage advice, go ahead and file ’em in the “forget it” file.
“Problem? Just don’t have sex. That’ll get his attention.”
Playing hard to get may have worked in your dating days, but research shows, unsurprisingly, that being aloof and distant when you’re in a committed, long-term relationship will make your partner think that you’re being, well, aloof and distant—and that’s a dangerous zone to be in when it comes to sex. “Denying intimacy as a way of punishment, or withholding it only to occasionally gift because he was good and deserves it is just another way of playing games,” says House, and you shouldn’t be doing that in a marriage (well, unless it’s these games). If you give sex a nasty undertone, or make it feel like it’s something he has to earn, it removes the fun, lightheartedness that a relationship needs to thrive. And remember, intimacy in the bedroom is what “allows you to be vulnerable and completely reveal yourselves to one another,” says House, so the more you withdraw from that, the more you put your relationship on ice.
“Stay together until the kids are out of the house.”
“One of the worst things you can do—for you, your husband, and your children—is pretend that reality is not reality,” says Tara Fields, Ph.D., licensed psychotherapist and author of The Love Fix: Repair and Restore Your Relationship Right Now. “And parents are kidding themselves if they think their children aren’t aware of what’s going on. Not to mention it can be a major burden to them if they think mom and dad are staying together for their sake.” So skip the heartache and figure out what you both really want—now. “If you both feel strongly that you don’t want your children to come from a family of divorce, instead of just sucking it up and trying to pull the wool over everyone’s eyes—which doesn’t help anyone—get your butts into couples therapy and really make a concerted effort to repair the relationship,” says Fields. “That way, you’ll either figure out a healthy way to resolve your issues, or you’ll know for sure that you can’t make it work. If that happens, that same therapist can also teach you how to uncouple.” Fields also says it’s important to remember that it’s not the fact that parents don’t live under the same roof anymore that scars children, but rather growing up with parents that don’t know how to resolve conflict, are distant, and use them as a personal therapist. Instead, show them that your divorce has nothing to do with them (a common fear based on your child’s developmental stage) by making it clear that you and your spouse are still a parenting team, no matter what.
“Never go to bed angry.”
It’s the first thing people wrote on the marriage advice page of your wedding guest book, and while it seems right to make up before you fall asleep, Patricia Johnson, sexuality expert and co-author of Designer Relationships, says you could just be slamming your head against a wall.”Talking is not the same thing as communicating, and doing it when you’re angry engages your logical mind, which often leads to building a case against your partner rather than connecting to fix the problem,” she says. Instead, just go to sleep (you know that’s what you really want anyway). Johnson explains that once you’ve had time to digest and rest, you’ll be in a better state of mind and have a clearer perspective about your partner, the relationship, and the issue at hand—you may even realize one of you blew a tiny problem way out of proportion when you got caught up in the heat of the moment, and it only got worse with your exhaustion. When you’re ready to talk again, she suggests focusing on the non-verbal cues first. “Look into each other’s eyes and breathe, and see if his body is positioned toward or away from you,” she says. If it’s toward you, or holding you in some way, that shows he’s open to having a meaningful discussion, too.
“You’re almost 40…you have to lower your standards.”
Please excuse us as we insert major amounts of eye rolling here. You are not a 1995 Honda Civic—you do not depreciate over time, and neither should your standards. “If someone is going to eliminate you from their ‘dating pool’ because of your age, then be happy that you can eliminate them right away, too, because clearly they’re not someone you should be with,” says Fields. “Dating later in life is not about what your standards are, but rather what your values are. What ‘s important to you now is different than what was important to you in your twenties.” So when you’re looking at whether or not someone is a potential long-term partner, you can consider things like how does he talk to his ex-wife, what are his goals in life, and how does he handle being with your children. Things that you thought mattered when you were younger—like how much money he makes—might not matter as much (because hell yes, you’re self-sufficient AF). “It’s not about lowering your standards, but figuring out what exactly your standards are,” says Fields. “And now that you’ve figured out who you are as a person, you shouldn’t settle for anything less than what you want in a partner.”
“Having a baby will definitely bring you guys closer together.”
Consider this the ultimate face-palm advice that was dished out in the 1950s that people are still listening to today. Think about it, though: Most American families need dual-incomes to make ends meet, and while bringing a baby into that picture can be joyous, it can also be extremely stressful. Not to mention getting pregnant with the idea that it’ll birth a new marriage is likely not going to work, says Peggy Sealfon, a personal development coach in Naples, Florida. “It creates a major distraction from addressing the real marital problems, which don’t go away. In fact, it’s much more likely that they’ll be exacerbated by the stress that naturally comes with caring for a child,” she says.
If a lack of nurturing is the root cause of your desire for a new addition to the family, Sealfon suggests taking on a new, potentially long-term project together that has value to the both of you. Something like a kitchen renovation helps you improve communication, dual decision-making, and working together under pressure (not to mention it puts all those House Hunters binges to good use), even if you are just dealing with colors, textures, and flooring to start. Then you can start to slowly address your relationship issues—potentially with the help of a professional—before revisiting the idea of growing your family.
“He wants you to like what he likes.”
Forget jumping on his favorite sports team bandwagon—research shows that couples who learn an activity or skill that’s new to both of them have a deeper bond and sense of intimacy, says Fields. So keep the passion going and make a list of things you’d like to try—whether it’s a one-time activity or a longer-term skill doesn’t matter—and have him do the same. Then get to work on crossing things off those lists. Once a month, pick something you can experience for the first time together. “It gives you the opportunity to support each other in becoming even better people, and facing fears that you probably wouldn’t have faced otherwise,” says Fields. “You might discover a new passion at the same time, which will make you more likely to want to do it together without it feeling forced. And it reminds you of the strengths that you both bring to the relationship, so that the two of you can learn from one another.” Example: Fields says that women usually have more emotional courage than men, so him taking on something that encourages him to express his feelings more (say, through a salsa dance class) would be a big step for him while you support him along the way. Whereas men tend to have more physical courage, so you learning to mountain bike while he helps you down a steep hill is big on your end. Regardless, “the healthiest relationship is the one that’s interdependent, where you maintain your sense of me and can do things on your own, but you can also become a ‘we’ and have those shared hobbies and experiences.”
“If you’re convinced he’s cheating, question him until he confesses.”
Plain and simple, lack of trust in a relationship will erode away your connection, no matter how long you’ve been together. And as the years in your marriage pile on, it’s easy for doubt to creep in. But “unless he has proven untrustworthy in the past, incessantly questioning him, checking his phone, and showing blatant distrust is a severe case of disrespect,” explains House, and respect is one of the vital emotions men need in order to feel fulfilled in their relationships. “You run the risk of him developing the mentality of, ‘I’m already getting in trouble for it, so I may as well do it,’ and then it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
If you really are concerned that he’s cheating, instead of attacking him, try having a candid talk about what attracted you to one another when you first got together, suggests House. It gives you a chance to open up emotionally about the intimacy you’re missing in the relationship, and be conversational—not accusatory—about your fears. “Express why you’re worried, along with any signals you think he might have given you, and go from there,” she says. And remember, if he did have an affair, but the two of you want to work through it, all hope is not lost. These tips can help you figure out your next steps.
“Don’t tell him that, you’ll seem crazy.”
The word “crazy” is too commonly associated with women in today’s society, and it leads women to believe that any problem in the relationship is most likely their fault, says Fields. So, logically, women refrain from truly expressing themselves in fear of being rejected. But “the point of a healthy relationship is that you are loved for your authentic self, and any time you don’t share a part of yourself with someone, you’re holding yourself back,” explains Fields. Instead, take a leap of faith and tell him how you’re really feeling—no matter what. Yes, there are ways to approach a problem in the relationship so that the conversation is a productive one, but it’s most important that you both be honest. In fact, Fields says that when you are, it’s more likely that “instead of him thinking you’re crazy, he might say, ‘Yeah, I’ve been thinking the same thing.’ Then you feel like you’re accepted for who you are, and it’s a huge sense of relief knowing that you don’t have to be scared to talk to your husband.” Now, that doesn’t mean that the two of you will agree on everything. But so long as you’re both comfortable enough to show your true feelings, you can work together to find a solution that appeals to both of you. “And, by the way, if he does say you’re crazy when you open up, then you’re with the wrong person,” she says. Noted.
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