A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

26 Marriage Tips from Grandmas You’d Be a Fool Not to Follow

Who knows better how to have a successful relationship than someone who's had decades of experience?


Be careful what you look for because you might just find it

“My great grandmother always told me to be careful what you go fishing for because you may come out with snakes. As a therapist, I share this with my clients when they are suspicious of what their partner are doing. They may think they want to know everything but are the results worth the fallout from that information? Often we tend to think we are ready to know all the dirty details only to realize we were better off before.” —Shannon Battle, licensed professional counselor. 


It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it

“As a child, my Southern grandmother taught me that successful relationships were more a result of character than content. As such, her favorite saying was ‘You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.’ Now that I work as a marriage counselor I see how true that is. It’s important to always speak kindly even in tense situations as kind words help couples establish and maintain habits of fair and equitable collaboration that creates a stronger bond.” —Bill Benson, licensed marriage and family therapist and clinical counselor at The Mental Gym. But there are also some specific things you can tell your spouse to help make your marriage happier.


Let him (or her) win

“When I first got married my grandma told me to ‘always let him win.’ At the time, I didn’t like this advice because I didn’t think it was fair. Why should I always let him win? As I got older and more mature, I see her point and see why this is such an amazing way to be in a relationship. It’s not that we get taken advantage of, or let ourselves be used or abused, but it’s about letting your partner win with the small things. It’s about compromising for the sake of a peaceful marriage. You give in to smaller conflicts for the good of the whole, and for a more peaceful union.” —Karenna Alexander, dating and relationship coach, based in Connecticut and New York City


Cook his or her favorite meal

“My grandma always had a delicious meal waiting for my grandfather and told me to do the same. At first when I heard her saying this it seemed outdated and even a little silly. I figured a guy should love me for me, not for my cooking skills. And it’s true, if you have a good guy, you aren’t going to lose him if you are a bad cook. But that said, cooking a meal for someone you love is a way of showing them love and that a you are there for them….It’s a form of communication, even on days when you both are exhausted and have nothing left. It’s a way of communicating love and creativity and caring, even when words aren’t spoken.” —Karenna Alexander


Pretend you can’t open the pickle jar

“My grandparents were married for 41 years and my grandma told me her secret: ‘Sometimes you have to let the other person feel needed, even if they aren’t.’ She explained how she would have my grandfather do little things like filing papers, or opening jars for her. She knew how to open a tight jar herself but she would still leave the tight jars until he came home from work. ‘Nobody wants to feel like you don’t need them to do nothing!’ she’d tell me. I understood later in life that even though I can change my own tire, my significant other wants to feel like he is the only one who can do it. And I am okay with that.” —Whitney Tillery, relationship coach and blogger at shewriteablog.com

iStock/Jacob Ammentorp Lund

Sing it with me: R-E-S-P-E-C-T

“My grandmother showed me that the secret to a lasting relationship is respect. Treating your partner with respect even when angry or upset with them makes all the difference to your relationship. Using respectful language when talking to them and respectfully listening to them when they disagree with you or have a differing opinion is crucial to lasting success.” —Rosalind Sedacca, certified life coach and author of 99 Things Women Wish They Knew Before Dating After 40, 50 & Yes, 60!


Never miss an opportunity for contact

“To nurture your relationship you need to touch one another from time to time throughout the day, according to my grandparents, who always had their hands on each other. A pat on the back or on the butt, a quick kiss now and then, holding hands when walking together or a just a simple hug keep your relationship special and intimate.” —Rosalind Sedacca. 


Before you light a match, check to see if you’re the one holding the gasoline

“My grandmother used to tell me, ‘Before responding in anger when your partner does something, stop and ask yourself if you have done something similar or as annoying to them in the past. The answer is almost always yes.’ This showed me that when we walk in our partner’s shoes we are less likely to judge, criticize, or alienate our partner. We can be more understanding and tolerant and more able to build bridges to heal relationship challenges as they occur.” —Rosalind Sedacca. 


Sex isn’t a soccer match

“My adopted grandma gave me some great marriage advice. She told me that things in the bedroom may not always be an equal 50/50 split but happy couples will prioritize the other person’s pleasure over their own. And it’s okay to be the one to put more effort into romance sometimes. It’s not about winning, it’s about being happy.” —Stacey Greene, author of Stronger Than Broken: One couple’s decision to move through an affair


Hygiene is always important

“My adopted grandma told me to always make myself pee after having sex. She said that even if I was tired, to get up and do it as it would keep me from getting an infection. She’s not a doctor but I took her advice seriously and never get urinary tract or yeast infections so maybe she’s on to something!” —Stacey Greene. If you’re preparing to get married, make sure you’re abiding by these etiquette rules brides and grooms should follow.


Relationships are like a pot of stew—better with time

“My mamaw loved teaching me how to cook and she’d use it as a way to sneak in life lessons. For instance, when I was struggling with a big decision in my relationship, mamaw told me ‘Don’t rush to act, but rather treat your response or decision like a pot of Brunswick stew or a fresh apple pie and give it a day. When you come back to it 24 hours later, it will be all that much better.’ Decisions made in the heat of the moment often end badly and I use this with my clients all the time.” —Eric Marlowe Garrison, author and sex therapist


Go a-courting

“When my mamaw was in her 80s, she’d show me the most romantic love letters from her then teenage boyfriend (and my future grandpa). She’d steamed open all of the envelopes because he would leave her secret messages written under the flap saying, ‘If you find this, I owe you a hundred hugs and kisses.’ It showed me the importance of including romance in the little things and now as a sexologist at William & Mary College, I teach this type of conscious courting to my college students and clients.” —Eric Marlowe Garrison. Check out more valuable marriage advice from relationship experts.

iStock/martin dm

You’re not a mindreader in a penny machine so stop acting like the Great Santini

“I am a grandmother of three and if I could give my grandchildren one piece of advice for their marriages, it would be to never assume your partner knows what you are thinking. Always ask them how they feel, even if you think you know the answer, just to make sure. You may just be surprised. People often do things because they thought the other one wanted them to when the reality may be the opposite.” —Hyapatia Lee, former Blessed Woman for the Lost River Band of the Cherokees in Mitchell, Indiana and author of Native Strength


Don’t hang your dirty laundry out for the neighbors to see

“Before I was a grandma we didn’t have social media so people didn’t share things about their relationship like many young people do now. But I think it’s still important not to air your dirty laundry. Don’t go running to your friends, the internet, or worst of all, your family, to vent about your latest argument. You may kiss and make up but they may not be privy to the apologies and it makes it harder for those that care to forgive. Naturally, if there is a fear of violence or the relationship is ending, this does not apply.” —Hyapatia Lee. It’s OK to post some things about your relationship on social media, but avoid sharing these 8 things.


Equality starts with home (and burned shirts)

“My grandmother was from Poland and left Eastern Europe in the 1930s. Although she was a typical woman of her generation who was uneducated and whose role was to be a wife and mother, she always had an eye to women breaking out of a subservient role. When I got married, she took me aside and said, ‘If he asks you to iron his shirts, say yes and then burn them with the iron. He will never ask you to do them again.’ That might sound harsh but I realized she was telling me in her own way how to important it was to elevate myself to be a true, equal partner in my marriage.” —Rhonda Milrad, LCSW, founder and chief relationship advisor of Relationup


Don’t be an old (or young) fuddy duddy

“My grandma told me that her secret to a happy marriage was to be open to trying new things. Entering a relationship with another person necessitates becoming acclimated to their world so it is important to get out of your comfort zone and try new things. Even if you think you won’t be interested in it, that doesn’t mean that it won’t enrich your life and it will make your spouse happy. This advice has helped be open to inviting a new person into my life and creating a life together.” —Rabbi Shlomo Slatkin, a licensed clinical professional counselor and co-founder of The Marriage Restoration Project


If you can’t agree, just agree to listen

“In an argument it can be easy to become entrenched in your own views, but my grandma taught me to avoid this by always trying to see the other person’s point of view, even (especially!) if you disagree with them. You don’t always have to agree with everything your spouse says or does but you do have to acknowledge the validity of their point of view.” —Rabbi Shlomo Slatkin. Following these communication rules for happy couples can help.


There’s a lid for every pot

“Whenever I used to fret about my love life, my dear grandmother would tell me, ‘Every pot has a cover.’ At first I didn’t realize the value in it but as I got more experience, it helped me see that if I was patient enough, I would eventually find the ‘cover’ to my pot and I did so in my husband David. There really is someone for everyone and he was more than worth the wait.” —Audrey Hope, host of Hope For Relationships and an addiction therapist at Seasons In Malibu


Marry for money and that’s all you’ll end up with

“My grandmother always told me to marry a man for love because in the end, real love is what matters. This surprised me because she was a child of the depression and therefore always asked my boyfriends what they did for a living. Yet even then she valued true love over a big paycheck. I followed her advice and now I’m happy and ‘internally rich’—the right kind of wealthy.” —Audrey Hope. 


Be a cheap date

“As a seasoned grandmother and wife I tell my grandkids to always take time to be a couple. We live in a busy busy world that finds us with little free time. Shared time can be a walk in the park, a cup of coffee at Starbucks, or a free concert. It does not have to be an expensive dinner requiring a babysitter, although that’s nice sometimes too. The important thing is to keep dating.” —Patricia Bubash, M.Ed, licensed professional counselor and author of Successful Second Marriages


Mind your manners

“What would a grandmother’s advice be without a reminder to have good manners? It’s so important to be polite to your spouse of all people. It seems that as soon as they say ‘I do’ many couples drop the ‘please’ and ‘thank you,’ but being polite and kind are one of the best ways we show love and respect for each other.” —Patricia Bubash


If you fight dirty you both just end up with mud stains

“My Bubby, a Holocaust survivor and one of the wisest women I’ve ever known, told me that it’s important not to lose control during an argument. When someone is really angry they may yell and say things they don’t mean but that just adds fuel to the fire. Instead, count to ten or take a walk to calm down and then talk. Don’t say things you will regret or try to reason with someone at a moment when they are crazy and cannot listen or talk calmly.” —Paulette Sherman, PhD, author of My Bubby’s Journey Through the Holocaust. Here are 12 more things to never do after a fight with your partner.


A balanced budget is the best love letter

“Fighting and worrying about money are stressful on a marriage, so Bubby taught me the importance of making a financial plan as a couple. ‘Spend a dollar and then save a dollar’ was her motto. This way when hard times come you will be safe. She also taught me to spend wisely by buying things that I love and need and to make sure I was getting the best so that it will last.” —Paulette Sherman


Love them but never forget how to live without them

“Before my grandfather died during the Holocaust he told a friend that his biggest worry was how his wife, my grandmother, would survive and take care of their two-year-old daughter without him. But he needn’t have worried about her as she proved herself to be strong and adaptable. She wrote letters for others, sewed clothes, knitted socks and even learned how to measure houses to make money. Because of her example I learned the importance of a good education and to be creative in making money. She used to tell me, ‘It is important to help your husband and to work together, but always know how to stand on your own two feet too because you never know what the future will bring.'” —Paulette Sherman. This old-school marriage advice might have stood the test of time, but we won’t judge you for ignoring these pieces of outdated wedding etiquette.


Sometimes the best thing to say is nothing at all

“My gran was an artist who lived to be 97 and so she had a special way of understanding and dealing with people in general but my granddad in particular. She would tell me that if he was touchy or cranky with me not to get upset but to go in the back garden and pick blackberries for a while. As a child I didn’t understand why I shouldn’t just tell him but as an adult I learned that my granddad was in a bomb disposal unit in London during World War II and had good reason to be touchy. Nan’s gentle direction taught me sometimes people just need space and quiet and that’s okay—a lesson that serves me just as well in my own relationships.” —Olivia Djouadi, UKCP registered psychotherapist


To keep the passion in your marriage, be passionate about your marriage

“My grandmother taught me that relationships start with passion, desire, respect, and admiration, and once you decide to spend your life with that person, it’s up to you not to let those feelings dwindle but nurture them so they grow. You can, and should, be more in love with that person now than you were the day you got married.” —Cashell Campbell, professional dancer. For more wise marriage advice, don’t miss these 28 little things you can do right now to improve your marriage.

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Charlotte Hilton Andersen
Charlotte Hilton Andersen is a health, lifestyle and fitness expert and teacher. She covers all things wellness for Reader’s Digest and The Healthy. With dual masters degrees in information technology and education, she has been a journalist for 17 years and is the author of The Great Fitness Experiment. She lives in Denver with her husband, five kids and three pets.