31. Relationship Advice

podcast transcript

Today, I wanted to talk to you guys about relationship advice, specifically from older people that have been married for a really long time and they want to give us advice about how they made their relationships work. I found this advice online and I’ve heard these types of things over and over again. I find it useful for my own life and I also find it useful for learning English because there are a lot of proverbs or sayings that we recycle and use again and again when it comes to relationships.

So it’s like the same types of sentences, worded the same way, will be repeated across generations as advice and those become what we call proverbs in English. One of the proverbs that people tend to say is, “Don’t go to bed angry.” Do you guys have something similar to this in your language? This advice really helps people to not hold onto anger and to resolve all their issues before the new day begins.

I personally don’t agree with this advice for myself because I feel like I need the time and the space to process my feelings before I can talk to someone about them. However, I know plenty of people that follow and preach this advice and it really helps them. So I think it depends on your personality. Listen to all these pieces of advice and take the ones that work for you and sound good to you and leave the ones that don’t.

One of the first things I am going to mention today is actually really commonly known in the marriage psychology field, and we call it the four horsemen. Basically, what it is are the four things that tend to break up a marriage. These are criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling.

What are these and what do they look like in action? Criticism is when you’re judging somebody and not just their behavior, but actually who they are as a person. It’s not complaining. It’s a little bit worse because you’re attacking the core of who they are and their personality.

Another thing to look out for is defensiveness. This comes up so often when we have conflicts with people. I think this is one of the most natural reactions that humans tend to have in arguments, is that we don’t want to be culpable. We don’t want to take the blame, so we become defensive and try to make the other person understand where we’re coming from.

However, defensiveness is one way to break down communication, not hear the other person and never take full responsibility for your part in the problem. This is a way to leave the other person feeling like they haven’t been heard.

The third is contempt. When you hate someone or you really dislike them and you have this bitter taste in your mouth towards them, that is contempt. Contempt takes place in marriages all the time.

For example, when you roll your eyes at somebody or you snort at what they’re saying, or if you’re in a group context and you’re using a joke or humor to make them look bad or to make your partner feel less, all of these passive-aggressive behaviors show a contempt or a dislike for the person that you’re with.

The last of the four horsemen is stonewalling. If you imagine a stone wall, nothing will get past it. This is what we’re talking about figuratively with communication and emotion. When you’re stonewalling someone in a relationship, you become unresponsive to anything that they do. You’re not trying to make it work.

You’re not trying to meet them halfway or connect with them emotionally or communicate with them about issues. You’re just there and you’re tolerating them, but you’re not really engaging with them at all. By the time it gets to the stonewalling stage, I think that there’s really no recuperating a relationship because stonewalling shows that there is no desire to recuperate a relationship.

Of course, these things happen every once in a while. I mean, maybe you’ll make a joke about your partner or you’ll criticize them, but realizing that every time you do this, you’re eroding the foundation of your relationship. I think that’s an important thing to keep in mind. As long as you’re aware of what you’re doing and keeping it to a minimum, I think that that will help you in the long run and serve as really positive relationship advice.

Another piece of advice that I liked online was somebody talking about something called a five rule. Whenever they were in a fight with their husband or their wife, they ask themselves if that fight would matter in five days, five months, and five years.

If it mattered in five days and not in five months, then it’s something that you could quickly resolve and learn to let go of. However, if it’s something that you knew could progress, grow worse and fester to be something huge and impenetrable within five years, at that point then you know you need to address the issue in a very serious way.

Everyone who gave advice always pointed back to communication. Whenever you have these arguments and difficulties in life that are unavoidable, everyone goes through them. The only way to resolve it is through communication. One person said, “Sweat the small stuff,” which is actually the opposite of a normal saying where we say, “Don’t sweat the small stuff.”

If we say, “Don’t sweat the small stuff,” that means you don’t get mad about all the little things. So, you don’t criticize your partner for not taking out the trash. You don’t get mad at them for being late. All the little things that maybe they forget to do. You kind of ignore those and let those go.

But this person said, actually you should sweat the small stuff. Although I don’t agree with that statement, I do see where they’re coming from. The reason why they said that is because they want people to develop the skill of communication to resolve the little things that bother them in order to actually be able to tackle the bigger hurdles in life that require a lot more strength in their communication skills.

So I definitely think that this in that sense is positive advice. If you don’t ever learn to discuss and dismantle the little things that tend to build up between you two over time, how could you possibly tackle the mountain that might appear a few years later?

Learning how to build that foundation of communication is extremely important. I think that I’m going to talk about this in another podcast episode this month because if you haven’t picked up on it, this month’s podcasts are going to be centered around relationships.

Another piece of advice that I have really loved was somebody saying, “To never sleep in separate beds.” I’ve seen older couples who sleep in the same bed and I’ve also seen some who sleep in separate beds. Of course you never really know what’s going on behind the scenes internally between just them.

But I do personally believe that one of the most important ways to connect with your partner is intimately through sex. So if you never sleep in the same bed, I feel like you’re kind of removing that layer of intimacy and making it more like a friendship. There’s just a little bit more distance there than I would prefer.

I think that it, of course, depends on the couple. If you like to sleep in separate beds, the more power to you. But I also think that there’s a great strength in having that unity and that special time together that no one else can share with you.

I think something else that can kind of go hand in hand with this is that your loyalty really should be to your spouse and not to your children. I think that a lot of people are guilty of this. Once they have kids, their relationship is focused on their children, and I completely understand that because you have to take care of these living things that are going to die if you don’t do your best to provide for them and to care for them. I understand.

However, the greatest gift that you can give your children is a happy marriage. Having your kids around a stable happy couple is so enriching to them and so healthy for them; that really the focus should be on you and your partner and your relationship before the kids. So, taking that time alone in bed and not having the kids there sleeping with you I think is a great step in that direction.

Another wonderful piece of advice is to realize that it’s better to be happy than it is to be right. That’s so true. And also to have a sense of humor with your relationship and with conflicts that arise. If you can just face life with a great sense of humor, everything will be so much easier.

I think the most important piece of advice is choosing who your partner is. You come together through romantic love initially, but what keeps you together after 20, 30, 40 years of marriage is that friendship, your ability to communicate, your willingness to give, and your commitment to each other.

If that friendship is there and that foundation is strong from the very beginning, then even when those romantic butterflies in your stomach start to fade away, you’ll still have the beautiful thing that was already left there underneath it.

 

Vocabulary

Preachearnestly advocate 
Contempt

the feeling that a person or a thing is beneath consideration, worthless, or deserving scorn.

 
Stonewalling

delay or block (a request, process, or person) by refusing to answer questions or by giving evasive replies, especially in politics.

 
Culpable

deserving blame.

 
Snort

an explosive sound made by the sudden forcing of breath through one’s nose, used to express indignation, derision, or incredulity.

 
Passive-aggressive

a type of behavior or personality characterized by indirect resistance to the demands of others and an avoidance of direct confrontation, as in procrastinating, pouting, or misplacing important materials.

 
Tolerating (something)

deal with; allow the existence, occurrence, or practice of (something that one does not necessarily like or agree with) without interference.

 
Recuperating

recover or regain (something lost or taken).

 
Eroding

gradually destroy

 
Resolve

settle or find a solution to (a problem, dispute, or contentious matter).

 
Fester

when a negative feeling or a problem become worse or more intense, especially through long-term neglect or indifference.

 
Impenetrable

impossible to pass through or enter.

 
Hurdlesan obstacle or difficulty. 
Dismantle

take something apart so it’s in pieces.

 
Enriching

improve or enhance the quality or value of.

 

Idioms and Collocations

Roll your eyesto move your eyes around in a circle because someone has said or done something stupid or strange. 
Meet (someone) halfway

to make a compromise with someone; concede some points in order to gain others.

 
Keep it to a minimum

to do something as little as possible or to make something as small as possible.

 
Let go of something

(figurative) to stop holding onto something (like the past).

 
Don’t sweat the small stuff

don’t let the small things in relationships bother you. 

 
To see where someone is coming from

To try to see things from someone else’s point of view.

 
(All) the more power to you

this is a saying that we use to try to tell someone “good for you” or “go for it”. It’s used to show that someone approves of what someone is doing and hopes it will be successful.

 
Go hand in hand with something

if something goes hand in hand with something else, it is closely related to it and happens at the same time as it or as a result of it. For example, prosperity goes hand in hand with investment.

 
A great step in that direction (or a step in the right direction)

a move that advances a course of action. For example, asking for forgiveness is a step in the right direction.

 
Butterflies (in your stomach)

when you feel nervous and excited about something, normally about a new love interest.

 

Questions

1. What’s a piece of relationship advice that’s common in your country?

2. Do you sweat the small stuff?

3. What kind of passive-aggressive behavior have you witnessed? 

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