Your in-laws likely give you all kinds of advice. Some of it is worth keeping. And some of it….not so much. We spoke to the experts to get their take on what words of wisdom to keep and which ones to toss.
Advice to forget: Never fight
It’s abnormal not to fight. Even happy couples have fights. Otherwise, that means one of you is too scared to bring up the subject and your issues won’t be resolved. You shouldn’t have to hide how you’re feeling if you’re in a healthy relationship. “Remember that your love interest liked you just the way you were when the two of you met,” says Gilda Carle, PhD, relationship expert and author of 8 Steps to a Sizzling Marriage. “If you suddenly withhold your passions about something, question whether you’ve given up your personal power. Fight for what you believe, and your passion will continue to turn your honey on.” These are the 13 most common normal fights even happy couples have.
Advice to keep: Look good for one another
It may sound a bit old-fashioned, but your in-laws have a point. Ditch those sweats (sometimes) for that dress he adores. Put on those tight jeans she raves about. This shows that you don’t take him or her for granted, even if you’ve been together for years. Added bonus: you’ll feel more alive by taking such measures. Research on couples around the world found that the happiest couples prioritized staying attractive for each other (along with giving back rubs and having good communication). “Show that you still prioritize the connection you have as lovers, not just as parents or roommates,” says Andrea Syrtash, relationship expert, and author of Cheat On Your Husband (With Your Husband). “Dressing up for date night, for example, won’t only be noticed by your partner but it will likely remind you of the early days when you were courting each other.”
Advice to keep: Laugh together
It’s common to only discuss life’s daily logistics and routines, especially when you have kids. But healthy couples laugh together—and often. It helps maintain the joy and spirit in your relationship. “Laughing boosts everyone’s mood and probably is something you did in the early days of dating your partner,” says Syrtash. She adds that the average couple with kids communicates for about ten minutes a day uninterrupted. “So it’s worth making time to chat, laugh, and hang out when the kid(s) are sleeping or even text during the day.” It can help bond you and give you a feeling of mutual joy and understanding. A paper from University Kansas professor Jeffrey Hall gives data-backed validity to something you may have figured out for yourself: Couples who laugh together, stay together. In fact, laughing together is one of the 11 daily habits of the happiest couples.
Advice to keep: Cook for him (or her)
You think it’s crazy how your mother-in-law slaves over making dinner from scratch every night. But, she may have a point. The way to a man’s heart (or to a woman’s, for that matter) may be through their stomach. Make his favorite meatballs for dinner, even if you aren’t a meat-eater. On Sunday morning, surprise her with your homemade waffles. “Food has long been associated with love,” says Fran Walfish, PsyD (aka Dr. Fran), a family and relationship psychotherapist and author of The Self-Aware Parent: Resolving Conflict and Building a Better Bond with Your Child. “It began with the love of the breastfeeding (feeding) mother to her infant.”
Advice to forget: Don’t keep secrets from one another
Yes, honesty is the best policy. But it’s totally fine to keep a few things to yourself, even when you’re married. For example, when a friend says “Don’t tell this to anyone,” it’s OK not to betray her. You want to be a good friend and don’t want to lose that friend’s trust. It’s fine to keep a friend’s secrets to yourself. And your spouse likely won’t understand or even care about it anyway, says Lisa Hochberger, M.Ed., a sexologist, sex educator, and relationship expert. “There is no harm in keeping a friend’s secret that doesn’t affect your spouse,” she says.
Advice to keep: Compliment one another
Your father-in-law is telling your MIL she looks gorgeous, yet again. It’s a good habit to mimic. “Too often, couples start to take for granted all the good things about their partner and complain about the flaws and friction points,” says Jill Whitney, LMFT, who practices in Old Lyme, Connecticut, and blogs about relationships and sexuality. “It’s fine to talk about things you hope will improve, but it’s essential to also give attention to all the good things about the one you love.” Happy couples know how to give a sincere and genuine compliment. In fact, a study found that receiving a compliment has the same positive effect as receiving cash.
Advice to keep: Show some PDA
You may think it’s gross when your in-laws get touchy-feely, but, touch is the building block of intimacy and connection. “Touch allows for a sense of being connected and in sync with your partner,” says Carla Marie Manly, PhD, a clinical psychologist and author of Joy From Fear. “Touch can be reassuring and affirming. A partner may feel safer when the other offers loving, supportive touch.” In fact, not touching can feel to the other person like you’re trying to fend them off.
Advice to forget: You must always act like honeymooners
The chemistry we feel for a spouse can ebb and flow. It’s not unusual in a marriage to go through periods where we feel a lack of desire for our spouse, even if your relationship is solid. With daily responsibilities like work, running a household, and chauffeuring the kids, your passion for each other may take a backseat. You likely can’t jet off to the Caribbean or spend hours in bed like in your newlywed days to rev up the romance. But you can do little things to rekindle your relationship. For example, Carle says you can make an appointment for romance by lining up trusted babysitters. “Sure, advance planning loses its spontaneity, but keep in mind the beautiful family you exchanged for spur-of-the-moment lovemaking,” she says. “When life takes over, reality reveals that sometimes you don’t have the energy or interest to act as you did when you had fewer commitments.” Instead, look to these 15 signs that your relationship is solid as a rock.
Advice to forget: Spend all your free time together
Your mom and dad may spend every waking moment together, but spending time apart isn’t a reflection on the status of your relationship. In fact, a break—even a short one—revives it. Absence really does make the heart grow fonder. “When two people are apart, they get to experience independent activities they can bring back to their honey and share through fresh eyes,” says Carle. “Each partner can grow from his/her time apart.” On the other hand, couples who spend every hour together can get bored by repeating the same experiences. “Apartness adds spontaneity, which couples fear will disappear when they meld their lives,” says Dr. Carle.
Advice to keep: Say I love you
If you’re looking to build a stronger relationship, you need to say “I love you.” “Saying I love you to your partner, whether it’s first thing in the morning or at bedtime, is important,” says Bonnie Winston, a celebrity matchmaker and relationship expert. “And saying it with a shared kiss makes it extra special.” Happy couples say it throughout the day—when they wake up, when they’re eating lunch, when they go to sleep. She says for variation to try other meaningful three-word phrases like “You amaze me,” “You enthrall me,” “I adore you” or “You’re my everything.” Slip these phrases into conversation whenever possible. These 11 ways to say “I love you” without words will also help them feel appreciated.
Advice to keep: Check in with one another
Your father-in-law can’t drive to the supermarket without a call from your MIL asking if he made it there OK. You don’t have to communicate 24/7, but couples in healthy relationships do call or text—to show the kid’s latest mess, an online joke, or for no reason at all. “Studies indicate that there has been a decline in communications between couples,” says Antonia Hall, MA, a psychologist, relationship expert, and author of The Ultimate Guide to a Multi-Orgasmic Life. “So it’s important to re-prioritize our relationships. Checking in can be a great way to do that. Use check-in time with your partner as a way to foster connectivity.”
Advice to keep: Don’t hold a grudge
You won’t let it go that he was on a business trip on your birthday. He can’t forget you didn’t make it to his company holiday party. Not letting go of something, aka a grudge, is toxic for a relationship. “Holding onto a grudge can contribute to increased stress levels and cause harm to your physical and psychological well-being,” says Hall. “Letting go of grudges isn’t easy. But it’s important for your own health as much as the good of your relationships.”
Advice to forget: Don’t ask for what you want in bed
Women are better now than in the 30s and 40s for asking for their sexual needs and wants to be fulfilled, says Walfish. So unlike your in-laws, tell your guy what you want done in bed. And guys, it’s OK to request frequency, speed, and type of sex you want and need. “Sex is a wonderful way for couples to bond and communicate, in addition to verbal language,” says Walfish. “Healthy couples fortify the foundation of their relationship by nourishing the marital relationship with sex.” Read on for the best marriage advice from people married for 50+ years.