Five myths about a happy marriage you may reconsider
WHETHER they're quotes printed on the back of suburban toilet doors or wisdom imparted in father-of-the-bride speeches, there seems an endless list of "rules" to a happy marriage.
But psychologists say that there are plenty that are actually quite outdated and you won't do your relationship any favours by sticking to them.
Here are five myths you can shelve if you truly want a long and happy marriage.
1. DON'T GO TO SLEEP ANGRY
This mantra has been repeated for decades as one of the tried and tested virtues for a happy marriage, but Jayne Ferguson, Relationships Australia Victoria senior clinician, says it's a flawed theory.
"Trying to sort the confrontation out before you go to sleep can potentially just make it worse," she says.
"When we're tired we're much less likely to be on our toes and we're less likely to be clear-thinking."
Ferguson says that if you're getting nowhere in an argument, it might be worth shelving it to discuss the following day.
"People deal with things in different ways - some people need to be able to go away and spend time thinking about it and considering it, while other people may be more confrontational," she says.
"If it's going to stop you from sleeping well, then you possibly need to say, 'Can we at least agenda this for the morning?' so that gives the other person time to work through it or deal with it in their own way."
2. HAPPY COUPLES DON'T ARGUE
It might seem counterintuitive but life coach Kate James, author of Change How You Think and Be Happier Now, says a relationship void of conflict is actually not a good sign.
"A good marriage involves healthy debate," she points out.
"If you don't feel comfortable to disagree, then I would question whether you are being completely authentic and telling the whole truth."
In fact, eminent US marriage expert Dr John Gottman, who has researched relationships for 40 years, proposes that there should be one negative interaction for every five positive ones within a relationship, provided the negative ones are still handled within the "context of mutual love and passion".
"Disagreements are normal in a relationship - it's whether we can remain respectful of the other person when we're in conflict," Ferguson says.
3. GOOD MARRIAGES REQUIRE HARD WORK
There's no denying that a successful marriage takes effort, prioritising and respect but it doesn't necessarily have to feel like a chore to put your partner first.
"Marriage takes an investment of your time and energy and there's no question it requires you to prioritise it," James says.
"But the way that it's phrased as 'work' might sound like a negative way to put it."
While couples counsellors might prescribe some "work" to resurrect the passion in unhappy marriages, those who continue to make each other a priority from the get-go would ideally see spending time together and caring about each other's experiences and opinions as enjoyable.
"Don't ever be under the impression that your relationship won't require you to make a concerted effort - you really actually need to try," Ferguson says.
"There will be times where you don't feel like engaging with your partner, there will be times when you don't want to go out [together] but if you do that, then your relationship will be richer for that."
4. YOUR PARTNER SHOULD BE YOUR BEST FRIEND
This marriage tip is a little murky. On the one hand, the experts agree that your spouse should be your best mate and someone who you share most things with, however it's imperative you have other close relationships outside your marriage.
"You should feel like your partner is the person that you share most intimate things with but it is important to have other relationships," Ferguson says.
"We often see couples [for counselling] who are completely dependent on each other for everything - they become overloaded and overwhelmed and struggle with conflict because they have no other way of bouncing it off or knowing what's normal and what other people do."
5. HAPPY COUPLES TELL EACH OTHER EVERYTHING
While you obviously don't want to be lying to your partner or withholding important information, there will be times when sugar-coating things or leaving out details that are likely to irritate them can be beneficial.
So if you noticed your colleague looked particularly dapper that day or your family bagged out your husband's recent extra chin acquisition behind his back - then you might question whether they are details you actually need to repeat.
"For the most part you want to be open and transparent but when there is no great benefit to your relationship in telling your partner something, then think about the intention behind your actions," James suggests.
"Same goes with correcting them and telling them they are wrong - sometimes it's easier to let things go through to the keeper.
"There is a saying, 'Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?' which can be worth keeping in mind."