7 Pieces of Advice to Take from Your Grandparents and 5 to Forget
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Your grandparents are very right about some things…and very wrong about others. This handy guide sorts out the good advice from the bad.
Many people relish advice from their grandparents, and for good reason. After all, older relatives only want the best for you, and they’ve likely garnered some pearls of wisdom over the years. That said, not all of their advice is golden. Sometimes it doesn’t keep up with the times or it’s simply bad advice. How can you tell the difference? We talked to the experts to discuss the most common grandparent-given advice about life, money, and relationships, and sussed out which tips you should follow—and which you should ignore.
Advice to keep: Laugh…and then laugh some more
Laughter is the best medicine for stress and pain. It can quickly improve your mood, as well as increase intimacy, happiness, and understanding, helping you bond with others. And a paper from University of Kansas professor Jeffrey Hall gives data-backed validity to something else that your grandparents probably mentioned: Couples who laugh together, stay together. “In my opinion, the purpose of life is having fun,” says Mike Goldstein, founder and lead dating coach at EZ Dating Coach. “If you can find time to do that with your partner, you’re headed in the right direction.”
And that advice shouldn’t stop at romantic relationships. Incorporate laughter whenever possible in your life, trying to see the humor even in difficult situations. It can make the difference between a good day and a bad day for you—and for those around you. If you need some inspiration, check out these love and marriage cartoons that are hilariously accurate.
Advice to keep: Don’t burn bridges
This world is smaller than you think. That’s why you should always try to maintain good—or at least civil—relationships with people from all parts of your life, whether you like them or not. You never know when you’ll encounter them again, socially or professionally. Plus, harboring grudges can take a toll on you. “In our hyper-connected world, our degree of separation has been reduced to about 1.5 degrees,” says Paul Hokemeyer, PhD, a clinical and consulting psychotherapist and the author of Fragile Power: Why Having Everything Is Never Enough. “Regardless of the degrees of separation, maintaining dignity in our relationships is important because it’s the right thing to do. In the long run, it just feels better. Cultivating compassion for and understanding other people, especially those we get cross with, makes for a happier and healthier life.”
Advice to keep: Don’t marry for money
Whether your grandparents had a happy marriage or an unhappy one, they likely know a thing or two about love and money. They’ve seen what can happen when financial situations change and when relationships get rocky for any number of reasons. Money doesn’t necessarily last, and it certainly won’t comfort you in trying times. But if you truly love being with the person you’ve chosen to spend your life with, you’ll be happier on a daily basis as well as internally rich—the right kind of wealthy. “We’ve been acculturated to believe that money buys happiness, but it doesn’t,” says Hokemeyer. “What it buys is obligations, duties, and heavy responsibilities. These are the opposite of what we need to be fulfilled and happy in our romantic relationships. In our love lives, we need to be free to be our authentic selves and vulnerable in our fundamental truths.”
Advice to keep: Save money for rainy days
All grandparents seem to preach this adage. Still, many Americans don’t prepare for a potential financial downturn. A study by Bankrate found that more than a quarter of consumers don’t have an emergency cash reserve. And while one in four do have some money set aside for worst-case scenarios, that money wouldn’t even cover three months of living expenses.
It may seem impossible to squirrel away even a little bit of money, but you really do need to figure out a plan. After all, you never know when your roof will leak, your car will break down, or your company will downsize. “Though life is unpredictable, you can predict that there will be times that something unexpected will happen,” says Marni Amsellem, PhD, a licensed psychologist who practices in Connecticut and New York. “Having access to a safety net or a backup plan, or having a support network in place that can rise up should you need them, is some great advice. While we can certainly live in the moment, anticipating needs in some form will be time and energy well-spent.” These holiday gifts are perfect for the grandparents in your life.
Advice to keep: Enjoy your kids because time flies
You may lose your mind if your toddler has yet another temper tantrum. And you just can’t argue with your teenage daughter again about what she’s wearing. But as hard as it might be, don’t wish these points in time away, and try to see the good moments that are also there, even when things are difficult. Why? Because that toddler will soon be off to kindergarten, and that teen will be out of the house for good. They’ll have kids of their own in the blink of an eye. Your grandparents know this all too well.
Being present enough to truly enjoy your kids can be extra tricky when life is pulling you in a million different directions. But—as your grandparents realize now—the time you spend with them is incredibly important, as is cultivating the right relationship. “If the balance of career and quality time is the issue, remember that your connection with your kids often means a lot more than whether you can buy them the newest gadget,” says Lynn Saladino, PsyD, a clinical psychologist who practices in New York City. “It’s often the moments (or lack thereof) that will make the biggest impression. It can be tempting to say you’ll spend time with them after the next project, promotion, or work trip. But be careful not to delay too long or you risk missing some of the most important years of their life.” And no matter how hard things might seem, make sure you never say these worst things you can say to your kids.
Advice to keep: Make sure your partner feels needed
“No one wants to feel disposable in your presence, as if you’d be no better or worse off without them,” says Amy Spencer, author of Meeting Your Half-Orange. “We enjoy feeling necessary, useful, and needed. And that is rooted in basic human behavior. We want to feel significant and that we have purpose beyond ourselves.”
One study even found that having a sense of purpose actually helped people live longer. “Giving your partner the opportunity to help you is healthy for them and it increases your bond,” Spencer explains. “Even if you don’t ‘need’ your partner’s help, you’d surely like it now and then.” To do this, choose an area that your partner feels uniquely trained or capable in. For example, ask a strong person to help carry something heavy, or ask someone who is good with emotional insight how to approach a problem with a friend. “Lean on them so they feel necessary in your presence,” Spencer says. What else do happy couples do? They engage in these 11 healthy relationship habits every day.
Advice to keep: Don’t air your dirty laundry in public
While our grandparents weren’t talking about Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram when they doled out this very wise advice, we can and should apply it to this aspect of our lives. Why? Because people often forget just how public social media is. It’s not a secret space or a diary, and you shouldn’t be sharing your latest disagreement with your significant other there. Friends, family, and random Facebook acquaintances don’t have to be privy to everything about your life or relationship, especially arguments. Otherwise, it makes it harder to forgive and forget, and it can also create hurt feelings since partners may be embarrassed by this oversharing.
Feelings can even be hurt inadvertently. Of course you shouldn’t reveal something important that your partner told you in confidence, but you also shouldn’t screenshot and post a text that sounds seductive. “A relationship is a bond,” says Spencer. “And to keep that bond strong, you need to hold some things special, like a vault for which only you two hold the key. Think twice before you give away everything in your relationship like it’s a commodity. It may help your relationship to keep some special secrets in the vault for just the two of you.” Keeping some things to yourself is definitely one of the etiquette rules we never should have abandoned.
Advice to forget: The woman is always right
Yes, it can be tough to say, “I was wrong.” But in a relationship, it has to be done sometimes. And even better advice: Instead of figuring out who is right, figure out how to make things work. “When fighting about small things with your significant other, try to let them go,” says Bonnie Winston, celebrity matchmaker and relationship expert. “Of course, the issues that mean the most and are important to you can be argued over, but in a mature way.”
How do you do that? By taking the time to come up with exactly what you want to say—in the best, calmest, and most productive manner possible. “Candidates in a debate don’t raise their voices and spew out unrehearsed words,” says Winston. “The ones who are the most effective have a well-thought-out viewpoint.” Focus on the root of what’s really causing conflict, and don’t bring up other issues or go off on a tangent; otherwise, hurt and resentment can bubble to the surface, causing a desire for separation.
Advice to forget: Don’t have screaming fights or you’ll end up divorced
“Volatiles” have been flagged by relationship experts and married couple John and Julie Gottman, founders of the Gottman Institute, as one of three types of “happy-stable” relationships. The average happy volatile couple has at least a five-to-one positive-to-negative ratio during conflict—meaning they have five times more positive interactions than negative ones—which John Gottman has found to be the marker of a healthy relationship. In contrast, couples who end up headed for divorce court have a ratio of 0.8 to one. Though happy volatile couples can have intense fights, they balance arguments with kindness and attentiveness. So while there is a kernel of truth to this, it really comes down to the entire tone of a marriage.
Advice to forget: Your partner isn’t a mind reader
Open communication is an essential tool for a happy relationship—our grandparents are right about that. But the Gottmans have found that successful couples also understand each other’s feelings and needs without having to be told all the time. One of John Gottman’s studies found a link between satisfying marriages and a husband’s ability to interpret his wife’s nonverbal cues. “The best relationships are those that involve two emotionally present partners,” says Gilda Carle, PhD, relationship expert and author of 8 Tips to Understand the Opposite Sex. “When a partner is emotionally present, he’ll be able to sense nonverbal cues about the wants and needs of the person with whom he’s living. He’ll feel the emotional pulse of his partner and then ask how he can help, support, or offer advice.” The bottom line: Pay attention to your partner, because there are plenty of cues that you should be picking up on.
Advice to forget: Opposites attract
The idea that one partner’s strengths compensate for the other’s weaknesses and vice versa sounds good at first. But the Gottmans say that their research finds no support for this commonly held belief. You can be opposites on some smaller subjects (for example, you love to read a book at the beach and he’d rather hit the waves). But it when it comes down to core issues like money management or disciplining the kids, it’s best to be similar. “Two people with totally different interests and desires will find that opposites dis-tract,” says Carle. “When two people are at opposite ends of an issue, they may end up arguing to convince their partner to change to their side. This could have been avoided if they chose a partner who was more aligned with their own belief systems.” Here are 15 more early signs your relationship isn’t going to last.
Advice to forget: Talk things out until you agree with each other
We hate to break the news to you, but sometimes it’s just not going to happen. (Sorry, Grandma.) The good news is that this doesn’t mean your relationship is doomed. Sixty-nine percent of marriage problems are managed rather than solved, according to John Gottman’s research. The key is to avoid a “gridlocked conflict,” in which you can’t make headway in a recurring fight. At the bottom of these issues, the Gottmans have found, are core-value differences that take couples by surprise. For instance, a fight about finances isn’t just about the cash; it’s also about the meaning of money, power, freedom, and security.
You might not be able to find the perfect compromise in every situation, but by creating an open dialogue, you can discuss the issue without hurting feelings. “It would be nearly impossible to agree with your partner on every topic,” says Saladino. “The key is remaining respectful in your conversations and limiting resentment for things that aren’t discussed. Doing the hard work of finding a compromise on tough topics keeps you on the same page and your relationship healthy.” Your grandparents aren’t the only ones with plenty of great and not-so-great advice—this is the advice you should and shouldn’t follow from your in-laws.