The two of you should do everything together; work out every disagreement (without actually fighting); spend every night in the same bed; and never, ever be bored. Say what?! These and other so-called "rules" for marriage need some serious debunking. And it is not just because rules your mother may have passed on are outdated; some may be downright damaging. In fact, "breaking some marriage 'rules' may be the best thing you can do for your relationship," says Barbara Bartlein, RN, MSW, psychotherapist and author of Why Did I Marry You Anyway? Here are 10 rules you can break with confidence.
1. Never go to bed angry. Where did this one come from? Turns out, it may go as far back as the Bible, which advises not letting the sun go down on your anger. But trying to work through a problem when you are tired and stressed will not get you anywhere, says Elizabeth Lombardo, PhD, psychologist and author of A Happy You: Your Ultimate Prescription for Happiness. "Agree to disagree for now, and to revisit the issue when you are rested."
2. Always be 100% honest. In marriage, no-holds-barred honesty is not always the best policy. For example, "you do not need to share details of past relationships," says Bartlein. "That invites comparisons, and when you compare, someone comes up short." The bottom line: You need to be polite and caring when it comes to your partner's feelings.
3. Never vacation without each other. The received wisdom here is that if you have time off from your jobs and lives, you should naturally prefer to spend it together. One problem with this rule is that you and your spouse may not have the same definition of a great getaway (you like to ski, he is a beach bum). The other danger, says Dr. Lombardo, is the belief "that you have to be each other's everything, and that is just not realistic." Sometimes, you need a spa weekend, and he may want to go camping (or vice versa). Just be sure that you do not always take off without each other.
4. If you fight, you are headed for divorce. Actually, says Bartlein, research shows that couples who never fight—assuming that means they are holding back to avoid conflict—are more likely to split. You need to find ways to fight healthily and productively (without blaming, name-calling and the like), but that said, being committed to respectfully airing out conflicts is a far better rule than "keep your mouth shut."
5. Once you have children, they come first. "So often, I see couples who have put their relationship on hold in order to be good parents," says Dr. Lombardo. But those couples, she says, have it exactly backward. Making your relationship top priority is better not just for you, but for your children, who need to see you in charge and who feel safer and more secure with parents who have a loving relationship. "Create couple-only time during which you do not discuss bills or children, where you do fun activities and enjoy each other's company." The kids will be all right.