New Marriage Rules

Menstuff® has compiled the following information on the New Marriage Rules.

The New Marriage Rules

Coupledom has changed a lot in the past 10 years. Listen in as the top relationship experts from the Redbook Marriage Institute reveal what it really takes to keep your union hot and happening these days.

Young couples (like you!) have rewritten the rules for what makes wedded life work better these days. Tune in to the marital trends below for the latest and best guidelines to stay in sync with your guy.

1. Old rule: Spend all your leisure time together. And be suspicious if your spouse wants away-from-you time.
New rule: Occasionally go out with friends — without your spouse. It's normal and even necessary, and will enrich your marriage.

Not long ago, a screeching alarm went off -— "Warning, marriage on the rocks ahead!" — if a wife (or husband) said that dinner or a movie with buds after work, sans spouse, was on tap. But young marrieds today are a lot more flexible about who they hang with and when. This is because many people now are likelier to have friends who are not part of their "couple" group, says Redbook Marriage Institute adviser Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, Ph.D., co-director of the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University. Couples aren't so insular anymore — they have outside interests and hobbies that expose them to a greater range of people. And most husbands and wives have also worked for several years before marriage, developing a wider network of job-related pals. These relationships are coveted — and continue to be nurtured post-wedding, says Whitehead. This growing trend through the '90s has now become a "rule," because husbands and wives expect such flexibility in their marriage. "Constant togetherness is unhealthy for any relationship," says Whitehead. "It wraps you in a very narrow world, and even makes problems you have in that world seem bigger than they are." Having outside friendships "gives you not only a broader perspective, but also richer experiences that keep life exciting and, in turn, help make you a more interesting spouse," she says.

Yet too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. How to tell whether you're spending too much time in a circle of friends that your spouse isn't part of? If you are more absorbed in the goings-on in your friends' lives than with your man's or if you share important news or thoughts with pals before confiding in your spouse, scale back pronto.

2. Old rule: Seek professional counseling to help a troubled marriage.
New rule: Make a good marriage great from the start by learning helpful relationship skills taught through couples' workshops.

Many young husbands and wives want to prevent marital meltdown before problems heat up. They've seen the havoc that the divorces of their parents' generation have wreaked. So there's no stigma about attending marriage seminars — at colleges, through houses of worship and via "relationship" conventions -- that teach practical communication and compromise skills, says Whitehead. In fact, newlyweds are admired for investing in their relationship from day one, she explains. Whether for advice on fitness, parenting, finances or marriage, people flock to bookstores, Websites, workshops and experts. It's proactive to say, "Hey, let's find out how to make our union as loving as possible to circumvent stumbling blocks," adds Redbook Marriage Institute adviser David Popenoe, Ph.D., co-director (with Whitehead) of the National Marriage Project.

  1. For example, Redbook arriage Institute adviser John Gottman, Ph.D., director of the Gottman Institute ( in Seattle and author of Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, and Julie Schwartz Gottman, Ph.D., his wife, run weekend workshops during which couples practice conflict-management skills. "One husband got upset when his wife was busy and not paying attention to him," Gottman explains. "He would say, 'I always come last with you. You're so emotionally unavailable. What's wrong with you?' It was an attack that didn't get positive results." The husband learned a new technique called the "softened start-up," which encourages broaching difficult topics in a nonaccusatory way, such as saying: "Remember the evening last month when we cuddled and talked? That was so nice. How can we do more of that?"

To find marriage education programs near you, check the directory at, an info site from the Coalition for Marriage, Family and Couples Education.

3. Old rule: Husbands and wives should divide housework equally.
New rule: Do chores according to whichever partner has the appropriate skills, time and inclination to do them.

"Today, it's a given that men contribute to housework," says Redbook Marriage Institute adviser Janet Hyde, Ph.D., a marital researcher at the University of Wisconsin. Because of feminism's impact on the family, young men have grown up in homes in which they have been not only expected to pitch in, but were taught many of the skills — from cooking to cleaning — by their mothers, to make it happen.

Yet the once much-touted ideal of a 50-50 division of labor, which, though certainly seen as a "rule," never became a reality in most households, is no longer even a goal for young couples today. Who does which chore is flexible and ever-changing —- depending on what is going on in the couple's lives, such as jobs, kids and other lifestyle factors, says Redbook Marriage Institute adviser Norman Epstein, Ph.D., a marital researcher in the Department of Family Studies at the University of Maryland. In a world where order-in food and send-out laundry are increasingly commonplace, and both partners may work all day, the playing field is somewhat leveled, says Whitehead. And yesteryear's Suzy Homemaker standards have also relaxed; couples are looking for ways to simplify their home life. Although women still generally tend to take on the most responsibility for housework — and want chores completed in a certain way — "what's new is that husbands are expected to be sensitive to their wife's needs and the changing demands of running a home," says Gottman. If your man isn't onboard with you, it's essential to tune him in to your feelings through "I" statements, such as, "I'm feeling overwhelmed doing 10 loads of family laundry a week. What solution can we come up with?" Shy away from finger-pointing statements that aren't solution-oriented, like, "Why don't you help more around the house?"

It's good for the cooperative spirit of your marriage to periodically review together all household tasks. Who has better skills to cook? To invest savings? To garden? Who wants to make sure that certain chores are even done? For example, if a husband couldn't care less whether the bed is made daily, but his wife feels that coming home to a "visually ordered bedroom" gives her solace, making the bed becomes her task. For this same couple, washing the kitchen floor and cleaning the toilet may be a chore neither volunteers to do. So they may give up a luxury item in their budget in order to hire a cleaning person.

4. Old rule: The true test of a marriage is how well you get through the big crises.
New rule: The little, everyday things — both positive and negative — are what really determine a relationship's success.

No one denies that major upheavals — a job loss, family illness or death, betrayal — can rock a relationship, and that weathering these storms can deepen your bond. But research has found that it's your daily give-and-take that more accurately sets your relationship's tone and thereby predicts long-term success.

How to make sure your give-and-take is the right kind to sail through a storm? Strengthen your marriage through what Gottman calls "daily rituals of connection," like kissing hello and good-bye, briefly checking in during work hours, asking about each other's day at dinner, picking up treats for each other, holding hands, leaving thoughtful notes. Sound easy? Too many couples brush aside these rituals in the hubbub of life. And here's the key: When you reach out to connect, give yourself over to the love task completely. For example, don't ask about his job as you're getting something from the fridge and wiping your kid's nose. If you make it your mantra to "Devote attention to your spouse in a hundred different ways," that attitude will rub off in your daily interactions and ultimately will determine your connections during those high hurdles, explains Gottman.

Similarly, steer clear of little, frequent twinges of negativity — such as name-calling, put-downs and cold shoulders. These are hurtful habits that can break down the mesh of resiliency you'll need to see you through down times.

5. Old rule: To have a strong marriage, choose a partner who shares the same background as you.
New rule: For a strong union, it doesn't matter if your backgrounds are different; your negotiating and compromising skills are more important.

How satisfied couples are in their relationship is less a result of how similar their expectations and values are in the first place. It's much more influenced by how they positively resolve decisions that come up — from what religion to raise their children to how often in-laws should be visited, from the importance of education to the importance of career growth, says Epstein. A husband and wife with identical upbringings can turn out to have a difficult marriage if they also each have a dig-in-my-heels-to-get-my-way attitude. And a couple who comes from opposite sides of the planet will have an enriching relationship if their priority is to embrace their different backgrounds as a good thing, while growing their love through compromise.

One of the best ways to compromise on a difficult issue, Epstein recommends, is to each write out what your ideal outcome would be, followed by a list of small changes you'd be willing to make to move nearer to a compromise. Putting your thoughts on paper is important, continues Epstein, because it helps you stay focused on your main "bulleted" points, and, when your partner shares his written points with you, there's less likelihood that you'll get caught up over the semantics of speech. For example, if a husband, who comes from a large extended family, wants to brunch with the entourage every Sunday, but his new wife, who grew up an only child and prefers quieter outings, doesn't want to commit to booking every weekend this way, a session with pen and paper can help them see that at least a few options are evident, says Epstein. They could cut down on the frequency of visiting his family to a more comfortable (for her) one Sunday a month. Or, instead of spending an entire afternoon eating and carousing, limit the get-together to an hour. Her husband could also see his family every other weekend by himself. And she could be flexible about visiting more for holidays and birthday celebrations.

Remember, it's not so much what you bring to your marriage that counts, but what you make of it that ultimately matters.

6. Old rule: A couple's romantic relationship must always take a backseat when they become parents.
New rule: After you have a child, it's crucial to make your marriage the priority.

There's no surprise that the time, energy and sacrifices involved in parenting can zap your zest for romance. "In fact, the arrival of a first child is one of the least happy times in many marriages, as most parents adjust to a tremendous level of stress and change," explains Popenoe.

But unlike marrieds in years past, couples today, many of whom wait until they're older to have children (and have fewer of them), are more aware than ever that the happiness of their offspring is greatly influenced by the state of their marriage, says Whitehead. So nurturing the marriage is paramount — through regular dates, couple getaways, candlelit dinners at home. But, interestingly, the impetus isn't only to keep kids secure. Young couples see their relationship as Job One, as the thing that ultimately will make them happy. They are aware of how easily that commitment can slip away. It's a selfish attitude that ends up working to the benefit of all.

7. Old rule: Sex is less important the longer you're wed.
New rule: Keep marriage sexually satisfying — no matter how many anniversaries have passed.

Today, urged on by a sexually explicit popular culture, as well as by new medical interventions promising randiness throughout their life, Americans have come to expect that intimacy will be a positive, ongoing part of marriage, says Whitehead. People just feel very comfortable today talking about sex and acknowledging its importance long-term, adds Redbook Marriage Institute adviser Lou Paget, author of 365 Days of Sensational Sex.

Want to make sure your bedroom stays rocking? Here are three moves to follow, says Whitehead. First, it's kissing, touching — the softer side of a physical relationship — that helps couples feel loved, stay close and set off fireworks. Rev up amorous action by increasing that foreplay (which sometimes gets forsaken due to tiredness, busyness or laziness).

Second, don't underestimate the aphrodisiac value of anticipation. On a Monday, planning and then looking forward to a scheduled special booty date on Friday night — replete, say, with an erotic film — is hot stuff, says Paget. It keeps you two in a heightened, positive state of what's ahead down the road.

And third, be open to spontaneity as well — an attitude that let's you, at a moment's impulse, come together, even spurred on by something as simple as whispering to him "I can't get enough of your..." in a midafternoon phone chat.


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