Every Sunday on my radio show, I give out "The Worst Relationship Advice of the Week Award". There's never a shortage of bad advice to choose from, and most of it sounds like harmless conventional wisdom. But bad relationship advice is harmful. I know from applying some of these ineffective suggestions early in my marriage marriage and nearly getting divorced as a result.
Of course, the real reason I give out this award is not just to point and laugh at people --although I enjoy that too -- but for the purpose of highlighting the simple skills that have helped thousands of women restore the excitement, passion and fun in their relationships.
Here are the three most common, unhelpful pieces of relationship advice along with what I now know are more productive alternatives:
1. Institute a date night
Golly, why didn't I think of that? That's right up there with weight-loss tips like "just eat less" or financial advice like, "live below your means." If life were that easy nobody would need advice.
But the noxious subtext of this vacuous advice is that to stay married, you should add "go on a date" to your list of chores, right between "scrub toilets" and "clean the garage." Yay! It reminds me of another unhelpful axiom: "Marriage is hard work." But with the right skills, marriage is not drudgery.
This date-night maxim is truly terrible advice because nobody ever felt special and loved when her husband said, "We should go out once a week to work on our marriage." A wife who says that to her husband is likely to be met with resistance to date nights because they reek of control and sound like a chore.
If you're not exactly enjoying each others' company, how would going out for dinner and a movie change that anyway? Wouldn't you just have a tense night out instead of a tense night in? And wouldn't that make you feel even more hopeless?
Here's a more effective practice for re-establishing connection: Instead of a weekly date-night, consider thanking your spouse three times a day for things he does to lighten your load or to delight you. Does he work hard to support the family? Thank him -- even if you work too. Did he start a load of whites? Say "thanks." Did he haul the garbage cans to the curb? Let him know you appreciate that.
This simple habit does double-duty for restoring connection because it not only helps you focus on what you're grateful for about your spouse, it also inspires him to find more ways to please you -- once he knows you appreciate his efforts.
2. Communication is the key to a good relationship
The reason this advice is terrible is because we women typically understand it to mean that we need to talk more to get our man to understand. If we could just get him to sit down and talk about his feelings for hours, we think that would fix everything. This feeds into the female fantasy that if our husbands would just do what we've been trying to tell them to do, everything would be fine. Most husbands would rather eat old horse blankets than have that conversation.
If your husband avoids conversations about your relationship, you might worry that it's because he's defective, and that for some reason, you didn't notice until after you were married.
Relationships benefit greatly when you don't communicate everything you're thinking, especially if it's critical or disrespectful.
Instead of trying to force a conversation with your husband, consider focusing on what's true for you and expressing it without criticism. Phrases like, "I miss you," when you're lonely will do more for your connection as a couple than a complaint like, "we never spend any time together." Saying "ouch!" instead of "you're really oblivious and insensitive!" when he hurts your feelings will go a long way toward keeping the peace and preserving the emotional safety, which is critical to intimacy.
And here's some marriage advice you don't often hear: When you find yourself tempted to correct your husband or tell him what he's doing wrong, zipping your lips until the urge passes.
3. You should go to marriage counseling
I know a divorced advice columnist who is always suggesting this. It didn't work for her, but she hasn't given up hope that it will work for somebody else.
There's nothing wrong with wanting professional help, and we've all been taught that marriage counselors are where we should turn when the relationship has left Happily-Ever-After Highway.
But I, for one, have lost my faith in a diploma as a reliable sign of relationship wisdom. Doubt crept in the day I glimpsed the inside of our counselor's marriage and saw her horrifying contempt and disrespect for her husband. It was confirmed the umpteenth time a client told me that her marriage counselor shamed her into getting a divorce, or listened to her complain about her guy every week for a year and never asked her to make any changes. Another counselor told my client she herself was getting divorced and recommended her client figure out where all the assets were immediately.
Granted, some divorces are necessary. If you're not safe, you have to get out.
But instead of taking advice from someone who studied relationships academically, consider checking for the most important credential of all: A happy relationship. Only a woman who actually enjoys the ease and pleasure of a great connection with her husband can tell you how to have that. But there's a pretty good chance such a woman knows a few things that will help, even if you think your situation is hopeless.
Maybe you've just been following the wrong advice.
To learn more about how to start making your marriage fun again, get Six Lessons for Lasting Love free at lauradoyle.org.