Monday, February 13, 2012

Worst Marriage Advice I Ever Got

Today, I am sharing with you the worst marriage advice I've ever received. Now, I'm not a professional psychiatrist or anything, but I'm sharing what works for me, and how my husband and I use common sense in our marriage.

"Once a cheater always a cheater"- While I haven't had personal experience with this, it is still a sentiment that bothers me greatly. The line, while being quite pithy and quotable, is explicitly saying that people can never change, never grow, never learn from their mistakes, and that we need to be militant in our judgment of others. The statement is being made that if a young man cheats on his girlfriend in college, at the age of 20, then you can never expect him to be faithful to a marriage; not at age 30, or 40 or even 50. He made a mistake and must be judged and held accountable for that mistake for the rest of his life.

"But wait!" I know you're thinking, "You're saying that if my husband/wife cheats on me, I should just take it and be okay with it?!?"


That's an incredibly personal decision that relies on a lot of factors, most importantly (I believe), the penitence of the "cheater."

I think the phrase should be "Once a cheater, usually a cheater." It's difficult for people with abusive or pathological behaviors to change those behaviors. Therapy can help, time can help, but setbacks are likely, and not everyone can stand by and support that kind of behavior on the road to recovery. Nor should they have to, frankly.

I know that our lives are filled with shades of gray. I know that I would never want to be judged forever for my worst moments, my biggest mistakes, my heaviest regrets. In my experience, forgiveness and compassion are a very, very big part of a successful marriage, and there's not a lot of room for this kind of all-or-nothing judgment.

"When you get mad, just start kissing passionately, you'll forget why you were mad"- I've actually heard this from several sources, some of which are shocking in retrospect. I just think it's terrible advice, though. I think it's bad for a lot of reasons (and remember, I am not a trained mental health expert, this is opinion, based on a lot of reading of psychology textbooks and self-help type stuff).

1) You never actually solve the problem at hand. What if you're mad because he spent all the rent money on magic beans and green stockings? If you start kissing before you can discuss it, you never solve the problem of the beans and stockings. Bad choices become bad habits, bad habits drive wedges between happy people... and you know where that leads.

2) You start using sex instead of communication. Physical intimacy is important, but so is emotional and intellectual intimacy. Replacing the latter two with the first leaves two big, gaping holes in your marriage.

3) You develop an unhealthy attitude about sex and intimacy. This doesn't really take a doctoral degree to figure out: if you closely associate romance with anger or disappointment, it won't be long before those two are interchangeable and inseparable. Any romantic activity can easily make you feel angry, emotionally frustrated or disappointed.

"Never go to bed angry" - This is probably the most common marital advice given, period. I also happen to think it's some of the worst advice, period. I understand where it's coming from: you should talk about problems or conflicts as they come up, instead of waiting until you reach a boiling point and you "explode" (or "implode," depending on your personality type). However, when you vow to never go to bed angry, you are vowing to stay up all night long until you reach a solution that makes you both happy. No matter how long it takes. No matter how wrong or stubborn either of you are.

This, in my opinion, is a recipe for disaster.

Fatigue and frustration are a bad combination. Inevitably, somebody will say something they regret; an unkind word or phrase, an agreement to something they aren't happy about, or an outright lie, just to make the night and the fight be over. And you can never really take back the things you say. Even if you apologize, those words are still out there, bouncing around in your partner's head.

Instead, my husband and I sleep on things. If we're having a heated discussion that is important, but it is getting late, we say "I love you, but we're not going to fix this tonight. Let's get some rest and talk about it again tomorrow." A little bit of time and rest can help give us some perspective. Things that seemed big or daunting at 2 AM, probably aren't so bad in the light of day. Plus, we woke up next to each other again, so we know that we still have a partner by our side for whatever this problem is :)

This post was inspired by a discussion on 20 Something Bloggers. All the content here is based on my answers. If anybody would like to share their opinions, or their answers to that discussion, feel free to comment or get in touch with me, and I'll host you as a guest blogger. 


  1. Your comments on marriage seem to be sound - coming from a woman married almost 33 years! Hi! I'm Susan, a fellow YA Campaigner, dropping by to learn more about you. My writing blog is at (I have been having trouble posting comments to Blogpost sites using that identity, for some reason) Anyway, I invite you to drop by my blog, anytime!

  2. Thanks, Susan! It's nice to meet you :) I visited and followed all the blogs/twitter accts of everybody in our group, o I hope to get to know you better over the next few weeks :)

  3. Good thoughts, Gina! My wife and I are hitting 19 years this week and, for what it's worth, I agree with all you said.

  4. Who wants to kiss someone they're arguing with? Especially if they're *really* arguing. I usually want to punch that person - love or not.

  5. I hate the dont go to bed angry one too. When our basic needs are not met (sleep, food, etc) we do not make smart choices.

  6. I agree! One more reason it's a bad piece of advice.

  7. I agree with you on the last two. But I would never risk dating someone who had cheated in the past. For me, that's like dating someone who had been violent against a partner in the past- why would you risk it? Cheating, in my opinion, can in some cases be more hurtful than physical violence, and I could never move past that with a partner, whether he'd cheated on me or on someone else in the past.

  8. Totally agree with all of this! I posted a link to this post on my blog's Facebook page. Spot on!

  9. Hello :) I'm a fellow campaigner from your group, stopping by to say hi.

    I agree with all of this, by the way. If you can't grow and make mistakes within a marriage, it can be a suffocating place. Everyone has their own limits.

  10. Exactly :) Nice to meet you, Lucy, I look forward to getting to know everybody better during the campaign.

  11. Wow! Thanks, Jessica :) That means a lot coming from you!

  12. I think this is an incredibly personal decision for each person, and I respect your choice.

    I just believe that people can change. I've seen several marriages bounce back from infidelity and become even stronger. We are all human, and I certainly couldn't possibly ask someone to be perfect when I am not. Again, this mentality of mine depends upon the "cheater" being repentant and willing to change. A pathological cheater, or an abuser who refuses to change, is not something I would put up with.

    On the 20sb forum, I pointed out that infidelity is not a 100%-always-divorce issue. However, if somebody leaves their partner because of infidelity, I wouldn't question it one bit. We all have our breaking points and trust is also a major factor in a successful marriage.

    Again, I just want to reiterate that I don't think your attitude is wrong. We all have to make our own decisions :)

  13. Great points, Gina. Totally agree. Although Biz and I haven't been married for long (only just hit one year) we've been living together for six years and have never had a 'proper' argument, because instead of avoiding issues when one or both of us are mad, we immediately talk about why we're mad and how that makes each other feel.

    The result of this? A pretty harmonious household. Also, a LOT of questions about why we have such a good relationship, and some haters who say it's not normal to be this non confrontational. Which makes me wonder what they think constitutes a confrontation. The haters are usually the ones who have no idea how to maintain a relationship for more than a couple of months, and they are often the people who spout off that rubbish that you've just shot down!


  14. My hubby and I rarely argue either. We actually only have one topic that we even disagree about, so that helps. But, like you, we talk about it like grown ups and solve our problems. No name calling, no yelling, no blaming. I have to admit, I got really lucky in finding a partner that doesn't shift blame or behave like an idiot when we're discussing things.

    And +1 to your whole last paragraph. I get "advice" all the time from people who seem incapable of happiness or stability in a relationship, and I'm like, "Uh, I got married seven years younger than the average bride in this country, and we've been married for more than eight years now. I'm good. I don't need your scream-and-get-it-all-out advice. Thanks."

  15. Also, if one of us does something utterly stupid like breaking a fave piece of china or knocking over a drink that we KNEW was there, instead of getting all 'woe is me' about it and bitching about how whatever it is is ruined, we usually just laugh and call the other a douchebag followed by 'I'm not cleaning that up, you did it'.

    WORD. Screaming never got anyone anywhere.

  16. Yeah, there's really no point in crying over things you can't change, and taking responsibility for your actions helps to diffuse the tension a lot :)

  17. I'm going to play the devil's advocate here, sorry about that, Gina. I happen to agree with the "Never go to bed angry" advice. It's biblical "Never let the sun go down on your wrath" and it guarantees a good night's sleep. I think it doesn't matter if anything's resolved. The point being, getting the bad blood out of the way otherwise the stuff festers and eats away...gosh, getting sleep is way more important than worrying about who's right or wrong the next morning.

  18. I can understand where you're coming from, but I disagree with a couple of points.

    1) To go to bed under pretenses of a false apology or having agreed to something you are unhappy about does not guarantee a good night's sleep.

    2) Over time, the spouse who is the more stubborn will "win" out more often, regardless of who is actually right. And, yes, in many disagreements, someone IS right. One person wants to spend the rent money on a vacation, or someone is flirting too much with a co-worker. There are some situations in which one person is wrong, and giving in simply because it's bedtime isn't going to actually fix the problem at hand.

    However, I do understand where you're coming from, to a certain degree. I also understand what the advice ostensibly is trying to achieve (as I said in the original post). But, in practice, it just doesn't work that way.

    My husband and I have never gone to bed in separate rooms, ever. Even if we are still technically in the middle of a disagreement, we pray together, we lie down next to each other, and we wake up at each other's side, ready to face our problems once again. And I stand by the fact that a good night's rest and a little distance from the problem can give us great perspective, helping us to solve our problems in a more productive way.

  19. I think whether advice is good or bad all depends on the WAY you disagree in the first place. I've been married for 16 years and my husband and I have yelled at each other ONCE in all that time. We've fought plenty but we don't do so loudly or harshly. A few pointed sentences, time for us both to think and then come back at it later when we know we'll be more rational. Because of this 'style', I agree that it's no biggie to go to bed still angry and I agree with your assessment. Now, if we were more of the yelling and fighting kind (and that's not always bad if you can maintain some boundaries while fighting) or if we were more of the "sulky and don't talk for days" kind of fighters, then it WOULD be better not to go to bed angry as that could lead from a simple fight to a week-long standoff. Therefore, whether the advice is good or bad depends on the habits of the people who receive it. We never fight so nasty that going to bed angry would be damaging.

  20. Haha, we're on the same page. Only, when I said to go to bed without anger, I meant agreeing to disagree. The next morning's another day and will prove to bring a whole new set of challenges. Uh, 20 years and counting! ;)