Advice is dubious, for good reason. It’s often given with the expectation that you follow it immediately. But people aren’t always ready, and the best wisdom doesn’t come with a shelf life. You can hear it, even dismiss it, but when the moment is right, sometimes years later, you’re ready to give it a shot.
This is the realm of marriage advice. It’s something of a pastime to ask guests at a wedding to write it down on cards. But you’re dressed up, feeling good, and haven’t been married for a day. The need will come later when the honeymoon is over in every sense, and you’re wondering what exactly to do.
Fatherly talked to ten guys about a surprising piece of wisdom that they received. It came from dads, books, and something stuck to a wall. But the words have stayed, helped them navigate their relationships, and possibly by passing them along, it can continue the tradition.
1. Don’t Just Be Parents
My surrogate mother told me to never stop dating. My wife and I do movie nights, take vacations, but we also hold hands. I cooked on our first date, and I still do. I surprise her with flowers and cake on her birthday at her office. It makes me remember what I promised to do in the first place. I also wanted to be better than my parents and share with my child what it looked like to have a man who was committed and in love with the woman he was married to. – Nate Turner, 55 years old, married 27 years, Zionsville, Indiana, author of Raising Supaman.
2. “No Old Garbage.”
When my wife and I were doing pre-marital sessions, my rabbi, William Lebeau, said that rule number one is ‘No old garbage.’ When there’s an issue, we discuss it, we resolve it, and we can never bring it up again. This doesn’t lead to marital bliss because life is never without issues, and it’s really challenging at first, but it’s the greatest piece of advice I ever received. This approach trains you to really think about your relationship not just in the moment, but also in the future. It makes me think how can I make this better the next time? How can I be better right now? We get a chance to move forward without being shackled to past mistakes and conflicts that are behind us. – Charles Savenor, 52, married 17 years, New York City
3. Always Kiss Goodnight
In our first home, the previous owner had stickers on the walls. In the bedroom, one said, ‘Always Kiss Each Other Goodnight.’ I thought, ‘That’s cool. Let’s do that.’ And we always do. Even if one of us is asleep, we give a kiss. It forces us to still have a form of intimacy and connection in a physical way. We’re not just roommates. We still have that moment and close our day with that. – James Cramer, 41, married nine years, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
4. Try the 5 and 5 Check-In
Harville Hendricks, the marriage counselor, invented this check-in called a ‘5 and 5’. We employ it about every two weeks. One person talks about their feelings, what’s going on for them, without blame, using ‘I’ statements, and the other just listens without responding. After five minutes or so, the listener feeds back what they heard and the speaker confirms that the listener got it right. If not, they tell them what they missed. Then you switch. It’s a great way to diffuse fights by being in a place to listen non-judgmentally. It’s also great to do when things are going well as a maintenance tool and a way to stay close. – Dan Socolov, 60, married 25 years, New York City
5. Have an Order
I was going through some dark times, and I read in Scriptures that you should love your spouse as Christ loves the church. A light bulb came on. I realized that I was putting my job and hobbies ahead of her. When I put her first, everything else fell into place. Everything I do, she’s on my mind. Everything I do, she comes to mind. It’s a sense of security. Our daughters see it too. We show affection and argue in front of them. Marriage ain’t always perfect, but their goal is to find a man to love them like I love their mother. – Brian Berry, 44, married 24 years, Vernon, Alabama
6. “Keep the Caulking in Mind”
My grandfather was a contractor and he often tossed off wisdom in trade lingo. One of his favorite phrases about marriage and life in general was “keep the caulking in mind.” When I was a kid I laughed, because caulk sounds like, well, you know. But it was his way of saying “pay attention to the little things.” It’s the stuff that fills the cracks that helps the big things stay in place. He and my grandmother had a wonderful relationship and it was because he always paid attention to holding her hand, making her tea in the morning, listening to her stories with a smile. He was always looking at the little things and I try to as well. — William Barrett, married five years, Miami, Florida
7. Think of the Team
My father and uncles told me to never speak ill of your spouse with your family or friends, especially when you two are not okay. Most of the time, they’ll take your side, and your spouse can’t defend themselves. Plus, a problem can blow over quickly, but what you say can linger. It’s a form of respect. Speak well of your spouse and side with them in public. Corrections go in private. – Ian Sells, 38, married five years, San Diego, California
8. Forget the Attitude
I gave this advice to myself after getting divorced. If you’re living in close proximity with someone and there are no disagreements, one of you is unnecessary. You’ll have disagreements, and your ability to resolve conflict will determine whether your relationship will be successful. If you’re going to do anything, eliminate sarcasm, because it’s already hard enough to communicate. Now the person has to read into what you’re trying to say and you’re expecting them to connect the dots. – Jerome Myers, 38, was married for 12 years, Greensboro, North Carolina, author of Politics of Marriage
9. Keep it Small
I come from a large, opinionated Italian family. We talk every day, and it’s easy to carry the weight of everyone’s opinions into a decision. When I got married, my dad told me that my wife, and now ultimately my kids, come first. It took a while to adapt to the new mindset but it creates a lot of clarity. I know that I’m having a conversation with one other person. My opinion matters and her opinion matters, and no one else’s opinion matters. We’re the most important people in our respective lives. – Jim Gazzale, 33, married six years, Troy, New York
10. “The Grass is Greener Where You Water It.”
Four years into my marriage. my wife and I were going through a tough time. It wasn’t a “let’s call a divorce lawyer” stage but a “oh this is what a rough patch feels like” stage. I went out for beers with a friend and I was moaning about our relationship and getting kind of worked out. This older guy was sitting next to us at the bar. He looked over at me and said “the grass is greener where you water it.” Then, he got up. A real old guy at the bar move. But I’ve always remembered that piece of advice because what he was saying is that things are only great when you put in the work. He must’ve gathered from my drunken blathering that I was doing more complaining and not enough actual work. Its simple advice that I’ve kept in the back of my mind ever since and share often.” — Geoffrey Shepard, married for 11 years, New York City