You’d think with marriage being an institution as old as, well, Adam and Eve, that we’d have an iron-clad set of rules for a successful marriage by now. Alas, not only do we not but the rules we have always seem to be changing.
I learned two things very quickly after I got married: First, everyone will have advice for you. Second, almost none of it is good. (Except for the person who told us…) After nearly 17 years of marriage and five kids*, my husband and I have learned that when it comes to our relationship we are the experts and are happier when we live by our own rules.
That old saying about never going to bed angry, for example, was one of the first rules we axed. It sounded good at first — in fact someone even gave us an adorable plaque for our wedding that read “Never let the sun set on your anger” etched over a Pinterest-worthy sunset — but in reality it was a nightmare. And I mean that literally. After too many nights arguing about ridiculous things like how soap really works (seriously, we did that), we’ve learned that neither of us is very rational when we’re tired so it’s better to get a good night’s sleep and work on things in daylight. And often, by the time morning comes, whatever it was has blown over. I’m not saying that “sleep off your anger like a bad hangover” is great advice for everyone but it works for us!
So in the spirit of bucking convention and living a long, (mostly) happy life together, I polled couples who’ve been married for 10 years or more about their favorite advice. Here are nine “new” marriage rules that have changed our marriages for the better:
1. Hangry people are not happy people
Physical needs generally have to be met before emotional ones. Being hangry (as in, so hungry you’re angry) is legit and it does not make you less of a person to admit that you cannot continue this conversation until you’ve eaten, used the bathroom, taken a nap, taken off your Spanx or whatever else you need to do to get comfortable. – Sacia and Ted Williams
2. Don’t sleep together
OK, yes, sleep together in the carnal sense, definitely. But don’t feel like you have to share the same bed every night, especially if one of you snores or has permanently ice-cold feet (and a penchant for putting them on other people). There’s no shame in doing it Mike and Carol Brady-style! – Molly and Dan Abel
3. Be polite even when you’re mad
It’s become almost a right to say whatever comes to mind, no matter how hurtful or rude — especially with your significant other. And, the thought goes, if they really love you they can take it. But good manners go a long way, and not just with waiters and store clerks. Why is it we are so much more polite to strangers than to our loved ones? Use your please-and-thank-yous, listening ears and inside voices with each other. – Eleanor and Dan Corner
4. Don’t expect your spouse to be better than they are
We all hope that we will become better people as we grow older but the truth is the only person you can change is yourself. Sometimes the best thing you can do is recognize your spouse’s imperfections and forgive them for it. And then hope they do the same for you. – Kendra and Brian Lanterman
5. Take adult time outs
Saying you need space from someone in order to get yourself together or calm down isn’t the same as saying you don’t love them and want a divorce. Yet so many of us feel like we have to stay in the room, teeth gritted, until every last detail is hammered out. There’s a reason it took years to come up with the Geneva Conventions so don’t be afraid to put yourself in solitary for a bit. Just be sure to tell your spouse when you’ll be back and ready to discuss (and the answer can’t be “never”). – Sarah and Shirzad Farsian
6. Talk about your husband to your friends
One of the staples of traditional marital advice is to keep the couple’s problems within the couple. That’s like saying the best way to heal a festering wound is to keep it covered with a Band-Aid — it might work… or it might erupt in a fountain of gore. Have a few good friends you trust that you can hash out arguments with. Sometimes all it takes is saying it out loud to someone else to make you realize how silly you sound. – Andrea and Jeron Wilson
7. Couples before kids
Children, bless them, will make everything about them. Always. And because they’re so little and needy it can be easy to let that happen. But you and your spouse were a couple before they ever came along and if you want to be a couple long after they leave the nest, you have to actively prioritize your relationship first. For some couples that means no kids sleeping in the bed with them, ever. For others it means scheduling a weekly date night. – Maria and David Martinez
8. A great marriage doesn’t make you grateful; being grateful makes a great marriage
It’s easy to think that once we have a “great” marriage then we’ll be thankful for it, but the reality is that once we’re thankful for our marriage and everything our partner does, then we’ll be happy. Gratitude first. Every night, write down three things you’re grateful for and make sure one of them is something to do with your spouse — you’ll be amazed at how much more love you’ll feel for them without a changing a thing. – Charlotte and Jason Andersen
*For anyone looking at our pic at the top and wondering where the fifth child is, our oldest daughter died of a genetic condition but I still like to include her in the family headcount.