By Lanesha Townsend
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.
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