Marriage Advice: New Rules for a Good Marriage
By Sarah Mahoney
Surprising new marriage rules to help you get closer — or even fall in love again
By the time we reach our 15th wedding anniversaries, most of us know how to handle the ups and downs of marriage. Sure, the wedding china may have a few chips, and perhaps we've had one too many spats about who forgot to bring home the milk. But we've also learned to negotiate holidays with the in-laws, wrangle tantrum-throwing kids, and talk each other through blown transmissions and career crossroads.
Now, instead of having our accomplishment acknowledged, it looks like we're in for a whole new set of marital challenges. Friends, family, movies, and talk show hosts warn us of midlife marriage dangers like husbands ditching their wives for younger women or empty-nest syndrome catapulting couples into divorce court. If getting the kids into college didn't force us apart, it seems, then a 20-something blond will.
Well, maybe not. At last count, America's divorce rate had fallen to 36 percent, its lowest level since 1970. That's because, on the whole, most of us like being married, and so do our spouses. And while there are certain challenges inherent in waking up next to the same guy for 5,379 mornings in a row, many so-called "inevitable" marriage pitfalls are really just unexamined old wives' tales. On closer inspection, two facts become clear: There's only a trace of truth in each fable — but there's also the potential to retool them to make your relationship even closer. Here are five of the most enduring myths, plus new rules to replace them.
Myth: Never go to bed angry. If you don't hash through every conflict right away, it'll lead to resentment and ultimately blowups.
As marriage folklore goes, the idea that it's imperative to settle every disagreement before day's end is pretty well entrenched. (After all, that's the way some people read that "Do not let the sun go down on your wrath" line from the Bible, as well as how others interpret the pop-psychology dictum "voicing grievances clears the air.") And many of us have accepted the premise that if we don't address disputes at once, all that unresolved conflict just festers inside us and we'll wake up angrier each day, until someone finally explodes over an uncapped tube of toothpaste.
Ideally, of course, we would all be able to truly forgive every slight and make up before bedtime. But guess what? No one is that perfect. And, in reality, most spouses don't solve problems well when they're mad. In fact, "the idea that it's helpful for couples to air their grievances in the heat of the moment is probably one of the most dangerous marriage myths out there," says John Gottman, Ph.D., professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Washington and author of The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. "Often, nothing gets resolved — the partners just get more and more furious." When people are overwhelmed by emotions like anger, they experience what psychologists call "flooding," a physiological response that leaves their hearts pounding and their concentration shot, to say nothing of their ability to resolve arguments fairly or amicably.