When you’re tying the knot, friends and family may share a few nuggets of advice for living happily ever after. They also may be quick to share their input when you’re going through a difficult time in your marriage. Or you might even seek their guidance, hoping a different perspective will help you fix what’s broken.
But this advice might not necessarily be right — or right for your relationship. Below, relationship experts share common advice that not only doesn’t work but may even derail your marriage.
“Never go to bed angry.”
This advice suggests that couples in conflict keep arguing until they find a solution. But this can leave you quarreling in circles, boosting your anger, without resolving a thing.
When people are already upset, their reptilian brain – the amygdala – can hijack their emotions and thinking, said Susan Lager, LICSW, a psychotherapist and relationship coach in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
“This primitive part of the brain only knows ‘fight, flight or freeze’ as responses to perceived danger.” This worked great for cavemen being chased by predators. However, they’re not helpful for present-day problems, which require “perspective, language, self-awareness, empathy [and] negotiation.”
Instead of continuing to argue while you’re in this heightened state – angry, exhausted and less rational – the best solution is a timeout, even if that means going to bed upset.
Then you can return to the conversation in a calmer state with a clearer perspective. “I say to couples, ‘Unless you get hit by a truck, there are usually opportunities ahead to resolve things reasonably.’”
“You just can’t trust them.”
“Such advice almost always comes from friends projecting their negative experiences and circumstances onto you,” said Steven Stosny, Ph.D, author of Living and Loving after Betrayal, Love without Hurt, and How to Improve Your Marriage without Talking about It.
Good advice, however, supports you in drawing your own conclusions from your own experiences, he said.
“If your partner has an affair, get a divorce.”
“This is terrible advice for many couples, because often violations of trust can be repaired and healed if couples love each other, and are committed to doing the work of rebuilding,” said Lager, author of Become Relationship Smart Without A Lifetime Of Therapy. She works with couples every day on repairing their relationships after infidelity.
“Don’t give them any credit; don’t be played the fool.”
This is another piece of advice people give to spouses who’ve been cheated on, according to Wendy T. Behary, LCSW, an expert in the subject of couples and narcissism and author of the book Disarming the Narcissist: Surviving and Thriving with the Self-Absorbed.
Regaining trust in a marriage where infidelity has occurred is complicated and takes hard work. When the spouse who had the affair is trying to repair the damage, this kind of advice can potentially derail progress, and leave couples at a stalemate.
“You just need time.”
Friends, family and the media also dole out this advice when a spouse has cheated. Time can be helpful for the other partner to catch his or her breath and get some distance, Behary said. But it’s not enough.
It’s important for partners to know what they can focus on during this time, she said. For instance, this might include figuring out what you need from your partner in order to regain trust and feel secure in the marriage. It might include figuring out if you’d like to stay in the relationship in the first place and why. It also might include developing different connections, such as making new friends or learning new skills, she said.
“Marriage shouldn’t take this much work.”
The reality is that all relationships take work. And there will be issues with every partner, Lager said.
Usually the beginning of your relationship is blissful. “Most relationships start with starry-eyed innocence, and an amplified experience of ‘oneness’ rooted in our biology. Without this lovely bonding, the species wouldn’t have survived.” But over time the differences between you become more apparent, and conflict arises. Having conflict isn’t a problem. It’s a normal part of healthy relationships, Lager said.
The key is in how couples manage that conflict, and “whether they’re open to learning and growing through it.” Of course, sometimes, working on a relationship is damaging to a person, Lager said. That may happen when a spouse is “abusive, untrustworthy or unloving.”
“You just need to learn communication skills.”
This isn’t necessarily bad advice. It just isn’t enough, Behary said. “I can teach you the mechanics [of good communication] but it’s not going to stick until you figure out what drives you and gets you stirred up.”
For instance, a husband promises to be home early to spend time with his wife and kids. However, because of work demands, he continues running late. And his wife continues feeling disappointed. When he gets home, before she even says anything, he’s angry and defensive.
Saying all the right things won’t help him understand that he anticipates being the bad guy, and this triggers his reactions, Behary said.
It’s not just about learning to communicate better. “Sometimes it’s about the emotions behind the words.”
“Don’t spill your secrets to a stranger.”
Because of their own biases, some friends and family will advise against seeking professional help, Behary said. They also may be too much on your side, she said.
They might express some version of: “Don’t go talking to a therapist. They’ll just mess up your head, and blame your parents for everything. This isn’t your problem. You’re perfectly fine. It’s [his or her] fault.”
It’s important for partners to examine how each of them is contributing to their marital problems. Going to therapy helps you figure this out and improve your relationship with the support of an objective and trained professional.
Ultimately, if you’re getting advice from loved ones on navigating your relationship, remember that people have their own biases and motivations (well-intended or not). You also may get confusing or mixed messages, Behary said. Plus, “not everyone is trying to protect you.”
If you’re giving advice to a loved one, the best thing you can do is to listen, be comforting and encourage the person to seek help, she said.