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Go Retro: 12 Tips for a Happy Marriage

Tried-and-true strategies you can borrow from your parents' marriage to enhance your own.
By Suzanne Wright
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Would you take relationship tips from your grandfather or your mom to make your marriage happier?

Modern married couples just might do well to emulate some of the successful strategies of their happily married parents and grandparents -- from sleeping in separate beds to maintaining same-sex friends.

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Two newly reissued books originally published in 1913, Don'ts for Husbands and Don'ts for Wives, contain hundreds of tried-and-true tips for a happy marriage. Advice for wives includes such tidbits as "don't let him have to search the house for you after his day's work. Listen for his latch-key and meet him on the threshold," and "don't bother your husband with chatter if he is tired." And for husbands, "don't hesitate to mention the fact when you think that your wife looks exceptionally nice," and "don't scowl or look severe; cultivate a pleasant expression."

"Baby boomers got sold by psychology on the idea of being 'authentic,'" says Terrence Real, therapist, founder of the Relational Life Institute, and co-author of Wonderful Marriage: A Guide to Building a Great Relationship That Will Last a Lifetime. "It's given us permission to treat and speak to each other horribly. Our grandparents knew better."

Could "old-fashioned" practices offer greater longevity, stability, and pleasure to your marriage? Yes, say the relationship experts WebMD spoke to. Read on for ways to incorporate these retro practices into your own relationship.

(What relationship habits (good and bad) did you learn from your parents? Join the discussion on WebMD's Couples Coping: Support Group board.)

Retro Relationship Tip No. 1: Reinstate Civility

"Please," "thank you," "pardon me" and "may I" are phrases that seemed to have all but disappeared from present-day vocabularies, especially with our loved ones. 

After spending time with Wonderful Marriage co-authors Lilo and Gerard Leeds, married for more than 50 years, Real believes you should extend your partner the same courtesy you would a stranger. "When speaking to your spouse, don't be rude, be respectful. Use a combination of old-school civility and modern frankness." Additionally, he suggests trying more sweetness and tenderness by saying things more lovingly.

Psychotherapist and author Tina Tessina, PhD, concurs. "Politeness is like a lubricant for your daily interactions; it makes everything go more smoothly."

Joyce Morley-Ball, EdD, a counselor in Decatur, Ga., adds some specifics. "Show her that chivalry is not dead: Pull out her chair, open the door for her, help her over a puddle, give her your coat when it is cold outside, help her to put on her coat. This act of affection shows that she is important and there is a level of respect for her."

Retro Relationship Tip No. 2: Put Pen to Paper

Back before cell phones and instant messaging, people wrote letters of affection to each other, often waiting weeks to receive them.

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