Every married person knows not to cheat, to be honest and to be there for their partner through the best of times and the worst. But most the happiest couples know that there are also some unspoken rules that are just as vital for growing stronger as a couple.
1. Don’t criticize your partner’s parents or friends. You know how it is-your family can tick you off but no one else had dare speak ill of them. That’s why you should tread carefully with your in-laws and your husband’s dearest friends. “Even when they’re venting to you, your contributions can put your spouse on the defensive,” explains LeslieBeth Wish, EdD, a Florida-based psychologist and licensed clinical social worker.
2. Tell your spouse about any ex encounters. Whether you get a Facebook friend request or run into an old flame at your kid’s soccer game, keeping the news to yourself could backfire, despite having zero feelings for the ex. “If there’s nothing to hide, why hide it?” says Deb Castaldo, PhD, a couples and family therapist and professor at Rutgers University School of Social Work in New Brunswick, NJ.
3. Keep unsolicited advice to yourself. Offer your support, lend your ear, but avoid speaking in an “I know what’s best” tone. “We give advice because we’re trying to be helpful, but it’s seen as criticism when we offer too many corrections,” says Harriet Lerner, PhD, clinical psychologist and author of Marriage Rules: A Manual for the Married and the Coupled Up. Give your spouse space to make decisions and gain confidence through trial and error-and ask that they do the same for you, says Dr. Lerner. “What matters in a relationship is not that things get done ‘right,’ but that two people are dedicated to contributing to each other’s happiness.”
4. Don’t take charge all the time. “The spouse who does the rescuing can become tired of that role,” says Dr. Wish–and resentful.” Get in the habit of asking your partner, “What do you think works best here?” or telling them, “I could use a hand cleaning out the pantry.” These requests will foster the idea that you’re teammates.
5. Choose your battles, but don’t stifle your feelings. “There’s going to be toothpaste globs here and Post-it notes there; that’s human nature,” says Dr. Wish. “You have to be able to say, ‘this isn’t important.'” Or if it is, speak up. “Tell your partner why it bothers you and that you’d like to work on a solution,” suggests Dr. Wish. You’d be surprised what you could learn about each other. For instance, your spouse may not leave dirty dishes in the sink anymore if you explain that your childhood home was piled high with plates and you were stuck washing them. A simple request like: “Honey, it’d be great if you could pick up the dry cleaning while you’re out” beats getting mad that they didn’t offer to help with errands.
6. Log off. When your attention is focused elsewhere, your spouse is bound to feel unimportant. So make quality time a top priority and restrict tech gadget use if necessary, says Dr. Wish. “Pay attention to the concept of ratio: How much time am I spending doing this compared to how much time I’m spending with my family?” she says. Create a rule that works for your household and stick to it, whether it’s no devices at the dinner table, shutting down phones at 8 p.m. or going gadget-free on weekend afternoons.
7. Don’t use the “D” word. Even in the heat of an argument, avoid threatening to pack your bags or head to the lawyer’s office. Besides the “D” word being downright hurtful, repeated warnings may result in a spouse calling the other’s bluff. “We act as if the intensity of our anger gives us license to say or do anything,” says Dr. Lerner. “But threatening divorce is never useful, and it only makes the probability of separation more likely.”
Plus…let’s add one more law that every couple should know, but one that still manages to damage more and more marriages…
REALLY have each others’ backs
In other words, be wary of outside influences, like a friend putting relationship-threatening ideas in your head or work or hobbies competing for your attention. “Happy couples have just as much conflict as those who divorce, but they know ways to get through it,” says Dr. Castaldo. “A couple has to have a strong boundary around themselves and they can’t allow anybody to get in between.”