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The 10 Best Pieces of Marriage Advice from 126 Scientific Studies

Based on decades research, experts curated the 10 most important marriage rules for couples.

 
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Marriage advice is a vulnerable, incredibly important matter.

The advice you take should be based on decades of research and rooted in insights from thousands of couples who have gone before you.

When a team of experts got together to create Lasting, the leading relationship counseling app, they wanted to give couples advice based on science. They found 126 widely-replicated studies that represented the best of the best marriage advice in the scientific community. Pulling from marriage research heroes Dr. John Gottman, Dr. Sue Johnson, Dr. Dan Siegel, Dr. Scott Stanley and more, read on for the top 10 pieces of marriage advice for building a healthier, happier relationship.


1. Respond to 86% of your partner’s emotional calls.

Emotional connection is the single largest predictor of marital success, and your emotional connection is composed of thousands of tiny Emotional Calls.

Emotional Calls are your and your partner's attempts to connect with one another. There are dozens of these every day. They can be simple moments where your partner wants to get your attention or have a chat ("How was your day?"). Or they can be complex, like a sad sigh or troubling issue you need to address.

Research shows that, in healthy marriages, partners respond to 86% of one another's Emotional Calls. In marriages heading for divorce, partners respond to only 33%

In short, being aware of and knowing how to treat your partner's Emotional Calls is hugely important.

What were all the ways your partner tried to connect with you in the past week? The answer is probably in the hundreds, so don't be hard on yourself if you can't think of all of them. Just think of a couple specific moments where your partner tried to connect with you.  

Relationship advice reflection: did you respond positively to 86% of your partner's Emotional Calls this past week?

2. Deeply understand your partner’s Inner World.

Research shows that you and your partner both have an Inner World: your own unique, subjective reality that you live in everyday. This means that you think and feel differently—about everything—and a big part of marriage is making consistent attempts to learn more about your partner's inner world.

It's impossible to help each other out and solve problems together if you don't understand one another. Not only that, but science has proven that both you and your partner are always becoming newer versions of yourselves. So often, in the cases of divorced couples, one partner will tell a therapist, "I woke up one day and didn't recognize the person next to me."

That's because the partners didn't consistently keep up to date on one another's worlds.

This principle is particularly helpful during conflict, because the way your partner sees an issue is always different from the way that you see it. And so, your job isn't to "win" the argument; it's to better understand your partner's perspective.

Relationship advice reflection: how can you learn more about your partner's inner world today?

3. Honor your relationship’s sense of “We.”

You and your partner are two different people, but your relationship creates a third entity, with needs distinct from either one of you. This is called your "We" (as opposed to “Me”). When you make decisions for the "We" (is this good for us?) instead of the "Me" (is this good for me?), your marriage health grows.

Research has proven that this sense of sacrifice is a strong indicator of marital satisfaction. These sacrificial decisions happen every day and span virtually every marital topic, from Money, to Sex, to In-Laws, to Household Chores.

Interestingly, sacrifices don't have to be big and bold. You can make decisions to support your relationship's "We" by making breakfast, planning date nights, running errands, listening to your partner vent, taking responsibility for your part of the conflict, prioritizing sex, and the list goes on and on.

Studies show that these small sacrifices promote more trust and emotional connection in your daily married life.

Relationship advice reflection: how can you choose the "We" today?

4. Start discussions softly.

Research shows that the way you begin a conversation with your partner determines the outcome of that conversation. In fact, 96% of the time, when a conversation begins poorly—due to tone, volume, words used, or a combination of all three—it ends poorly, too. The lesson? Starting conversations gently and thoughtfully helps you resolve conflict.

The power you have to create healthy conversations with your partner is enormous. Simply bringing up issues softly and mindfully will put your relationship on a far better trajectory.

Dr. John Gottman can predict divorce accurately by just watching the first 3 minutes of a couple's discussion.

Pause before you bring up an issue. Ask yourself, "What's going on in my inner world, and what's going on in my partner's inner world? How can I understand my partner's viewpoint better?" A split second of mindfulness before you start speaking can help you start softly with your partner.

Relationship advice reflection: how do you normally start discussions with your partner?

5. Express appreciation every day.

Studies show that consistently expressing appreciation (e.g. "Thank you" or "Wow, I really appreciate when you do that for me") nurtures and protects your relationship over the long haul. It's the lowest-hanging fruit in your marriage.

In a study named How a Couple Views Their Past Predicts Their Future, clinician Kim Buehlman interviewed couples about the history of their relationships—how they met and fell in love, the good and bad times, and how the experience of marriage has been.

These stories predicted future marital satisfaction and divorce within 94% accuracy. Couples who appreciated their relationship and its history were very likely to create happy, healthy futures together.

How's it work? Practicing appreciation makes you far more likely to respond positively to 86% of your partner's emotional calls, which is our greatest piece of marriage advice. Studies shows that couples who feel more appreciated by their partners are more responsive to their partner's emotional needs and more committed to the relationship.

All of that happens with just a simple, "Honey, I appreciate you."

Relationship advice reflection: what do you appreciate about your partner? What relationship moments are your absolute favorites?

6. Co-Create Your Own Culture.

Life is complicated, busy, and chaotic, and it's easy to lose sight of what really matters. But research shows that your culture can provide the structure to keep your marriage strong and guide you toward both of your goals and dreams.

How does it do that?

First, co-creating rituals—such as morning coffees, date nights, family dinners, and evening walks—enables you to prioritize your marriage on a consistent basis. Even when life gets crazy, your marriage and family life can still thrive.

Second, co-creating a culture helps you define your family's values, mission, and purpose—the foundation of your future goals and dreams. Your culture keeps you connected over time, shapes how your family thinks about the world, and defines what you work toward achieving together every single day.

Lastly, it’s worth mentioning that co-creating a family culture is also symbol of your marriage. In the culture-creation process, while you're getting to know one another's values, goals, and dreams, you'll combine the ways you think and feel about the world into a single family. That's one of the greatest privileges of marriage and will bring far more meaning and purpose into both of your lives.

Relationship advice reflection: are you satisfied with your daily and weekly rituals? Do your rituals reflect your family mission?

7. Remind yourself that conversations about money aren’t about money.

Typically, conversations about money revolve around how to spend money, which is a conservation about the here and now, and how to save for things that really matter, which is a conversation about the future.

The truth is that each of us has a different way we want the here and now and the future to look—and that's not mathematically-based. That's emotionally-based.

That's why couples tend to fight about money. Differences in these perspectives can easily lead to strife.

In addition to differing perspectives, each of us also has a cognitive relationship with money that influences our spending and saving tendencies. Our childhood, teenage years, and adult experiences have continually crafted our likes and dislikes regarding money. It's "okay" to spend money on some things, but not on others.

Remember the Inner World principle from above? Well, each of us have an inner world pertaining to money, too.

What can you do? Solving money-related conflicts takes open and honest discussion about what's important to you.

When your partner is able to hear what you value or don't value (spoken gently, per #4 above), the odds that you'll have a productive conversation go up tremendously.  

And so, when you find yourself getting flustered, pause for a moment and think: "Why do I value this purchase? Why does my partner value this purchase?" Since the difference in value is the cause of the issue, understanding the difference is the key.

Relationship advice reflection: what was your last fight about money? Do you see how it was rooted in a difference in value?

8. Build Your Sex "Script.”

Your sex "script," a term coined by researcher Dr. Sheila MacNeil, is what you create for each other when you're able to have thoughtful conversations about your sexual preferences with your partner (e.g. likes, dislikes, time of day, frequency, etc.).

It's like asking for directions and remembering the answers.  

There are two key factors related to satisfying sex: emotional connection and conversations about sex. The second one often gets overlooked, but research shows that only 9% of couples who can't talk comfortably about sex report sexual satisfaction. By talking about sex, couples develop a "script" or "playbook" for how to please one another emotionally and sexually.

Again and again, studies like this have shown that being able to talk about sex is linked to overall marital satisfaction.

That's why it's vital for couples to not only prioritize sex in the relationship, but also to learn how to talk about sex comfortably on a consistent basis.

How can you make it more comfortable? Sharing your likes and dislikes about sex isn't a difficult task in itself, but being that vulnerable (even with your soulmate!) can make it a very difficult task. To make it more comfortable, try to think about sex as a physical expression of your friendship.

At its core, the goal of sex is to become closer friends and have fun together. This reframing makes it a friendship issue, which is easier to address than a sexual issue.

Lastly, don't forget to begin any discussion gently with your partner, per piece of advice #4 above. Start with a friendly phrase, such as, "Hey babe, I'd love to talk about our sex life and how it's going. Can we do that?"

Relationship advice reflection: do you know all of your partner's sexual likes and dislikes? What can you learn today?

9. Act Interdependently.

Did you know that you and your partner are emotionally dependent on one another? Research shows that, just like a child is dependent on a parent for nurturing and security in order to survive, two married adults are also dependent on one another for emotional nurturing and emotional security in order for the marriage to survive.

That's a good thing! Marriage provides the structure for this to happen in a healthy way, and this is why emotional connection is the single largest factor in marital success.

Although emotional dependence is universal in all marriages, the level of dependence varies from person to person.

This is one of the greatest tensions in marriage and happens quite often: one person wants more dependence, while the other wants less, which results in one person appearing to be "clingy," with the other appearing to be "distant."

This tension is normal, but can skew healthy and unhealthy.

The healthiest way you and your partner can act in your marriage is to be emotionally interdependent. This means that, while you and your partner are dependent on one another, neither of you sacrifices who you are or compromises your values.

Why is this so important? Even though it's vital to support your relationship's sense of "We,” this should never come at the expense of your sense of "Me." You can help your partner and your marriage when you take responsibility for your own actions and feelings in your marriage. In sum, you can depend on one another emotionally, but also honor one another's differences and separateness.

Relationship advice reflection: do you think that you are too clingy or too distant at times in your relationship? If so, why might that be happening?

10. Strive for Emotional Forgiveness.

Research shows that there are two basic types of forgiveness: Decisional and Emotional.

Decisional is the "head" version, where you decide to forgive, but still hold negative feelings about the offense. Emotional is the "heart" version, where you forgive completely and replace negative emotions with positive emotions.

This is vital because emotional forgiveness is the only form of forgiveness linked to "forgetting." That means if you only forgive with your head and not with your heart, then you are likely to harbor resentment about the offense, which breeds contempt.

Not forgiving emotionally can cloud your relationship's future. If you don't forgive emotionally, it's likely that the hurt will resurface again, putting you at risk of developing a negative cycle of interaction that characterizes couples heading for divorce.

The goal? Try to reach complete emotional forgiveness by making efforts to empathize with your partner.

Empathy requires hearing your partner's rationale, trying to take your partner's perspective, and taking responsibility for your part of the conflict.

Relationship advice reflection: are you satisfied with how you forgive one another in your marriage?

A great marriage takes work.

Get Lasting and access hundreds of sessions, exercises, and quizzes that help you and your partner build a healthier, happier marriage based on decades of research.