Top 10 Relationship Advice From Over 2500 Happily Married Couples
When I got married nearly three years ago, at the wedding reception I asked some of the older and wiser folks who were attending for a few words of advice from their own relationships to make sure my wife and I didn’t shit the (same) bed.
I think a lot of newlyweds do this—ask for relationship advice, I mean, not shit the same bed—especially after a few cocktails from the open bar they just paid for.
But then I figured that with access to hundreds of thousands of smart, amazing people through my website, I could go one step further. Why not consult my readers? Why not ask them for their best relationship/marriage advice? Why not synthesize all of their wisdom and experience into something straightforward and applicable to any relationship, no matter who you are?
This is what I asked: anyone who has been married for 10+ years, and is still happy in their relationship . . . what lessons would you pass down to others if you could? What is working for you and your partner? Also, to people who are divorced, what didn’t work previously?
The response was overwhelming. Almost 2,500 people got back to me, many of whom sent replies measured in pages, not paragraphs. It took weeks to comb through them all, but what I found stunned me.
For a start, they were all incredibly repetitive.
That’s not an insult—actually, it’s the opposite, not to mention, a relief. The answers came from smart and well-spoken people from all walks of life, from around the world, each with their own histories, tragedies, mistakes, and triumphs . . . and yet they were all saying pretty much the same dozen things.
Which means that those dozen or so things must be pretty damn important . . . and they work:
1. Always assume the best.
Whether or not you're an optimist, chances are, you find something personal in your S.O.’s actions when they disappoint you. It’s natural because, well, relationships are personal. But 9 out of 10 times (if not all 10), your person has no intention of upsetting you.
“Especially when we’re already in an irritated state, we have a hair trigger for taking things the wrong way and assuming the worst,” says Gillihan. (And yet when our partner feels personally offended or attacked by something you do, you’re probably annoyed that they don’t just let you off the hook.)
But keep in mind that “so many of our reactions are based on how we feel about ourselves, versus how someone else feels about us,” as Gillihan explains. So try this: In the morning, tell yourself, Today, I’m going to choose the most benign interpretation for whatever comes my way.
“This mentality gives you the freedom to get over yourself”—and can set an example for your significant other to do the same, he says.
The result? You both can focus on all the good—and bounce back fast from any moments of accidental “bad.”
2. Take time to see them.
The security of a long-term relationship (and marriage, obviously) is freaking fabulous. But a common price for that is how “used to” your partner you become.
“There comes a point when we’re looking at a projection or memory of the person, not who they are in 3-D at that moment,” says Gillihan. “That leads you to make assumptions about what they need based on their past—not their present.”
And, of course, people (yourself included) evolve as time goes on, and when you're with someone for the long haul, it’s on you to recognize how.
So whenever you can—on your next date night, while they’re making the coffee, after they get back from a run—take a second to stop and really see your partner with fresh eyes.
Think of three kind or impressive things they did recently, and feel the feels for them. Then instead of “I love you,” try saying, “I see you.” Their reaction could be pretty stunning.
3. Notice projections.
Speaking of interpretations, one thing that can mess them up is a psychology term known as projection.
Projection is, in short, when you transfer your own feelings about yourself or a situation onto someone else.
While it's typically a subconscious habit, projecting leads you to assume that your partner feels a certain way when, in reality, they don't.
For example, if you've been cheated on in the past and have trust issues because of it (I mean, fair), you might interpret your partner's "You're acting weird" comment as an accusation that you're being disloyal.
When in truth, they're just wondering why you've been less talkative for the past two days.
Whenever you can, try to pause and see a conversation or situation for what it really is, notice your own insecurities and assumptions (ask yourself: Do I know X to be true?), and do your best to let go of the idea that you know what your S.O. is feeling, says Gillihan. You'll never truly know unless you ask them.
4. Prioritize intimacy.
I'm not talking about sex here, though that is incredibly important in a relationship, too.
I mean the kind of intimacy that comes from physical touch, genuine eye contact, mutual smiling, etc.—all the tiny moments that make your heart swell.
"These are the things that remind your partner that you're in this together, that you choose them and are happy you did," Sussman says.
Touch your S.O. when they're making coffee (a quick hug around the waist does the trick...just be careful not to make them spill), look at them in the eyes when they tell you about their day, take showers together, sleep naked, snuggle...you know, the PG stuff that makes the day-to-day that much more special.
"If you notice that’s declining, it could be the time to take a moment and talk to yourself about why—is it on your end, theirs, or both?" Sussman notes.
If increasing your own initiation of this type of intimacy doesn't lead to them doing the same, you may want to consider seeing a couples therapist, who can help you both figure out underlying issues.
5. Proactively check in.
Repeat after me: No matter how well your person knows you, they will never know exactly what's going on inside your head at all times.
So don't expect them to...ever. You'll save yourself a lot of drama by voicing your thoughts once you've had a chance to process and collect them, Dr. Chloe notes. (And I co-sign.)
That said, you probably harbor a lot of thoughts that you may never voice for one reason or another—and your partner could be doing the same.
Perhaps they don't feel like you'd receive them well, or that their voicing concern wouldn't lead to beneficial change, anyway, so they suck it up and move on.
While that's not a huge deal on an occasional basis for minor things (like, them being annoyed that you can never decide what you want for dinner), holding things in regularly won't end well.
So do your part to get your S.O. to open up by checking in from time to time. In a casual, nonconfrontational way (perhaps when you're in the car), ask them, "How are you feeling about us these days? Is there anything I could be doing more or less of to support you?"
Oftentimes, just your taking a minute to ask is enough to make them feel the love.
6. Do or say something daily to show your appreciation.
“Saying and doing small, simple expressions of gratitude every day yields big rewards. When people feel recognized as special and appreciated, they’re happier in that relationship and more motivated to make the relationship better and stronger.
And when I say simple, I really mean it. Make small gestures that show you’re paying attention: Hug, kiss, hold hands, buy a small gift, send a card, fix a favorite dessert, put gas in the car, or tell your partner, ‘You’re sexy,’ ‘You’re the best dad,’ or ‘Thank you for being so wonderful.’”
7. Don’t just go for the big O.
“Sex isn’t just about orgasms. It’s about sensation, emotional intimacy, stress relief, improved health (improved immune and cardiovascular system), and increased emotional bonding with your partner, thanks to the wonderful release of hormones due to physical touch.
There are many more reasons to have sex than just getting off.”
8. It’s not what you fight about — it’s how you fight.
“Researchers have found that four conflict messages are able to predict whether couples remain together or get divorced: contempt, criticism, stonewalling (or withdrawal), and defensiveness.
Together, they’re known as ‘The Four Horsemen.’ Instead of resorting to these negative tactics, fight fairly: Look for places where each partner’s goal overlaps into a shared common goal and build from that. Also, focus on using ‘I’ versus ‘you’ language.”
9. Focus on the present, not the past.
It’s natural to bring your fears and negative experiences to a new relationship; after all, it’s a survival mechanism to prevent getting your heart broken again. But even if old fears and insecurities may prevent heartbreak, they can also prevent you from truly being happy in a new relationship.
For example, if a past partner was unfaithful, don’t distrust your new partner just because of what an ex-relationship was like. Focus on the qualities that make your new partner different. If they’re trustworthy enough to date, that means you should trust them.
Likewise, while the “dating history” conversation will be an important one eventually, don’t rush into it. Spend the first few dates getting to know your partner’s likes, dislikes, dreams, and personality traits, while they’re getting to know yours.
There’s no need to explain what went wrong in your last relationship on the first date or find out about their dating past before you know the names of their siblings and where they grew up.
10. Don’t have important conversations over text.
Texting is a modern-day blessing when it comes to regular check-ins and sending funny memes to make your partner laugh while they’re at work. However, texting should not be used for anything deeper than making plans or LOLing over TikToks.
Discussing your feelings for one another or getting in disagreements should always be done in person. Not only can texting make in-person feel awkward, but a lot can be lost in translation and cause more misunderstanding.
If you feel an argument coming on and you’re in a situation where you can’t at least talk over the phone, let your partner know you’ll discuss it when you can talk it through together.