Marriage advice is in high demand right now. In addition to the fact that so many of us are tired of being cooped up together and balancing work and home and childcare, the pandemic has forced couples to just… do more. Couples need to talk more, argue more, apologize more, work together more, think more about what they want their shared life to look like, focus more on how to be a good partner. Some marriages are doing great; others are not. All of them could use support.
All this adds up to the fact that marriage counsellors and couples therapists are offering a lot of advice. As so many couples are dealing with shared issues of balancing work and home life, communication, and the overall goal of not wanting to smother their significant other (kidding), it’s not a surprise that the advice on how to address those problems overlaps as well. To put that advice in one place, we asked a variety of counselors and other mental health professionals working with couples to tell us the marriage advice they’ve been sharing the most. Here’s what they said.
1. Schedule Important Conversations
It may seem counterintuitive to make appointments to talk to your wife, considering that a) she’s your wife and b) you guys are around each other all the time. But experts stress that you need to set a specific time for big conversations instead of bringing them up on the fly.
“I share this advice over and over,” says Washington State couples psychologist and founder of the Couples Communication Institute Sarah Rattray. “Regardless of the unique concerns you and your partner are experiencing, learning to come together to talk them through together in a calm, relaxed state of mind opens the door to becoming a strong team together.”
Why this advice is often shared: If couples learn how to plan for bigger talks, they avoid on-the-fly fights And if you put off the conversations? Resentments can fester.
Why it’s Helpful: Making time for a conversation establishes the importance of the topic you’re addressing and the relationship itself. Just as important, it helps both spouses get ready.
“Before your conversation time, take a few minutes to each do something that you find relaxing, such as a few minutes of deep breathing, a hot shower, or sitting quietly and petting the dog after a brisk walk,” Rattray says. While you set the scene, hone your argument. Pick a single, narrow topic to discuss.
During the conversation, be patient and take turns speaking and listening. Once you understand each other, find out if you each just want to be heard before trying to solve any problems. “Talking in this way you can begin to feel like a refuge for each other in this pandemic world, which feels so healing and connecting,” Rattray says.
2. Try to Have Compassion for Your Partner
California family therapist David Grammer’s advice is simple: make an effort to have empathy for your partner. “The most common guidance I’m giving to couples is to have compassion for each other,” Grammer says. “Specific techniques vary from couple to couple but the underlying principle of having compassion and understanding for their partners difficulties is imperative.”
Why the Advice is Often Shared: Couples aren’t always going to agree with each other. Inevitably, one or the other will do something the other doesn’t believe is justified or correct. But failing to see your partner’s point of view will make problems worse.
Why it’s Helpful: If they understand where their partner is coming from, their shared experience becomes smoother and easier. “Understanding allows for patience and support and decreases anger and frustration,” Grammer says. “The more we practice active listening and improve our understanding of another person’s point of view the more likely we are to come to an agreement or solution that is acceptable to everyone involved.
3. Create a Transition Between Work and Home Hours
Laura Goldstein, a marriage and family therapist in the DC-metro area, says couples are better off when spouses take time for themselves when they log out of work for the day. “Rather than just leaving your home office and entering the living room, consider what type of decompression you would get during your commute,” Goldstein says.
Why the Advice is Often Shared: On the whole, reduced commuting times are a good thing. Instead of wasting away in a car, bus, or train, you get more time to actually live your life. The downside is that when you have no physical separation between work and home, you feel like you’re always at work and your home life suffers.
Why it’s Helpful: Whether you’re listening to a podcast, calling a friend or relative or just resting your eyes as you would on a train, taking 10-15 minutes to simulate the end-of-day return home from work creates a distinction between work and home life. “This will help you show up so much more effectively for your loved ones once you actually re-engage,” Goldstein says.
4. Don’t Let Self-Care Slip
New York State psychologist and author Lea Lis is finding herself regularly share advice about self-care — the physical and the mental. “Don’t forget about your self-care rituals, like your skin care routines, the hair coloring and the shaving,” she says. .
Why the Advice is Often Shared: It’s easy to get in the habit of letting your personal appearance slide a little when you don’t go out often and wear a mask while you do. But while it’s fun to slob out for a day or two, extended periods of slovenliness can harm your self esteem — and your marriage.
Why it’s Helpful: Not only will you feel better but it will show your spouse that you’re making an effort to, well, not be gross. It might not make anything better but it’ll help keep things from getting worse. Nobody in the history of the world has ever done anything special for someone because they smelled bad.
5. Don’t Make Your Partner Read Your Mind
Lis has also been advising her clients to tell their partners what they want and to make it as easy as possible for them to do it. “Tell them what you need and be specific,” she says. “If you want a big fuss made for your birthday, or a special item of jewelry as a gift, tell them. And, better yet, include a link to the site.”
Why the Advice is Often Shared: It can be hard to express your needs at any time in a relationship. But its important — and quarantine especially calls for directness. Everybody’s worried and preoccupied and it’s hard to cut through the noise of our ever-present anxiety. If you rely on passive aggressive communication techniques, things aren’t going to go the way you want.
Why it’s Helpful: When couples agree to be straight with each other about what they want, they’re far more likely to, well, get what they want. And they’re far less likely to have their feelings hurt.