The second he puts a ring on it, you know it’s coming. The wonderful act of getting engaged opens you up to a tidal wave of unsolicited advice.
This premarital advice from anyone and everyone who sees that rock on your finger is interesting. When I first got engaged, I truly enjoyed hearing uplifting love stories — and a few war stories — from couples who had been there and done that. We were all in this together! Ain’t life grand!
But soon enough, I began to notice a pattern that grew particularly irritating. Much of this premarital advice was the same. A lot of it didn’t make sense, and plenty of it didn’t apply to our generation. Even worse, some of this advice came on the heels of another person’s divorce — prompting them to take me aside and tell me in hushed tones exactly what went wrong in their marriage and how I could avoid their mistakes.
Yikes is an understatement.
If you are currently engaged, I’m happy for you. This is your time to optimistically celebrate what could be a life-long love. This is also your time to stand on your own two feet as you create a new union: Learn to separate the bad advice from the good, and ultimately, do what works best for you and your partner.
I think the newly engaged and the newlyweds can agree on one thing — there are a few annoying pieces of marital advice we could all do without:
1. Buy her flowers to keep her happy
Hey, I love a beautiful bouquet of flowers as much as the next girl, but even I understand the old adage that money can’t buy you love. Eva Glasrud, psychologist at The Happy Talent, says that buying pricey gifts for anniversaries and special occasions is the worst marital advice you can get. “New research shows that money can buy happiness — if you spend it on experiences (a weekend getaway, perhaps — or an acrobatics or metal working class together) rather than things (jewelry, flowers). And decades of research show that couples that play together, stay together,” Glasrud explains.
2. Don’t go to bed angry
This is an oldie but a goodie, and one I have heard many times from just about every adult in my life. The thinking behind this advice makes sense — try to resolve your issues with your partner before you go to sleep so you can both wake refreshed, and reconnected, in the morning. Not so fast, says Dr. Bola Oyeyipo, a family physician who emphatically disagrees with this bad marital advice, “A lot of times we need a timeout from heated arguments when both parties are irrational, unyielding and tempers are fiery. Sleep helps us decompress, and often times we would wake up with better insights and even feel consolatory towards our partner.”
Happily married father of 12 Shannon McGurk, who has weathered a real-life marriage with hurdles that include cancer, diabetes and a failed business, backs Dr. Oyeyipo, “One of the worst pieces of advice I have been given is not to go to bed angry. I think sometimes the very best thing you can do is take a break and cool off. Sleep on it, whatever it is, and re-approach in the morning.”
3. Don’t have a baby
Have you ever had a frazzled parent pull you aside at a birthday party and tell you never to have kids? “It will ruin your marriage,” they whisper with gaunt, hollow eyes. “Your sex life will never be the same again.” As a parent of two toddlers with boundless energy, I can say this is partially true, but it isn’t the whole story. Becoming a parent was a decision my husband and I both consciously made, and barring the incredible exhaustion, it has dramatically changed our lives for the better.
Latasha Michelle Kennedy, actress, writer and producer, says that after being happily married for 10 years, this qualifies as some of the terrible advice she has chosen to throw out: “Don’t have the baby. It’s going to ruin your career. I thought you and your husband were smarter than that.”
4. Have a baby to save your relationship
You would think anyone with a pulse would know this is a terrible idea, but there is a growing population that proves otherwise. On the other side of the coin, newlyweds are often encouraged to have a baby as quickly as possible because it will make their relationship better. (Cue every parent on planet earth laughing hysterically.)
Dr. Fran Walfish, Beverly Hills relationship psychotherapist, author of The Self-Aware Parent and expert co-star of Sex Box, WE tv, doesn’t pull any punches — she calls this “really bad” marriage advice, “This archaic, olden-days belief was a way of life for many. Actually, the opposite is true. The unresolved problems get buried and emerge unexpectedly, which never taught people good communication skills. These folks plodded along for decades in unhappy marriages, unequipped with healthy conflict resolution skills. Never bring a new child to live in a war zone. The bond and open communication should be well-established first as part of the bricks and mortar foundation of your growing family.”
5. Marry the first person who asks
Did anyone else get a shiver of disgust just reading that? Sorry to break it to you, older, well-meaning relatives, but this isn’t the 1950s. Plenty of women choose to never marry or have kids and lead incredibly fulfilling lives. For those who do, I can only hope the engagement came about honestly — because you found someone you really wanted to spend your life with.
Constance Dunn, author of Practical Glamour, says, “Without a doubt, the advice that I was given on more than one occasion was to ‘marry the first guy who asks.’ Right. Not great advice because it doesn’t take into account a key variable of a successful marriage — that the bride also loves, or even likes, the groom. It also sets up an interesting predicament: That any guy who claims to love you is automatically in the running for your hand. Any girl who gets such advice should immediately discard it, no matter how crazy she is about the advice-dispenser.”
6. Marry someone who loves you more
Would you believe I have heard this horrific advice in real life before? The thought behind the sentiment is this: If you marry someone who loves you just a little bit more, you can call it “relationship security.” The partner who is more in love may be less likely to leave. There is so much wrong with this advice I almost don’t know where to begin, but I will say this — one of the things I appreciate most about my husband is that from the beginning, we both agreed that we were contributing equal amounts to the relationship. We are both equally in love (with variations depending on the day), and neither of us has the upper hand.
7. Marry your opposite
When going into a marriage that you hope will last a lifetime, there’s one key truth to remember above all else: No one has the perfect recipe for a forever relationship. If someone insists opposites attract, that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to marry your opposite to be happy. For many of us, opposites are annoying — case in point, locking a chatterbox up with an introvert for days on end is a dynamic that does not work for everybody.
Sabrina Hartel, author of Are You Sure You Want to Go Back to College? and now a divorcée, says that “opposites attract” was by far the worst marital advice she ever received, “Not only did my marriage of eight years explode because we had nothing in common — he was the complete opposite of me, which motivated me to leave him. So I did.”
8. Stay together for the kids
As a child of divorce, this particular piece of advice really rubs me the wrong way. If you have never been through a divorce before, as a child or as an adult, it may make sense to try to hold a crumbling family together, but this is one of the most harmful things you can do to your kids. Take it from me.
Rosalind Sedacca, founder of the Child-Centered Divorce Network, says that research disagrees with this antiquated, anti-divorce philosophy, “[Usually] offered by people who don’t understand that living in a family with continual conflict, tension, disrespect and parental sadness negatively affects the children and impacts their self-esteem, confidence and ability to choose a healthy life partner.”