Rule Break #1
Never go to bed angry
The best time to fight is when you're tired and cranky, right? Um, no. "The pure adrenaline rush of a fight can drive you to seek more and more of the same," says Joy Davidson, Ph.D., a couples therapist in New York City (. And the brain can actually reach a point where it's unable to process logically and instead, raw emotion takes over. "That's when you're just riding the rush and start screaming 'I want a divorce!'" she says.
Instead: Davidson suggests having a chat with your significant other to establish a time limit for any future arguments. That way if you find yourself in the middle of a heated discussion (okay, knock-down-drag-out-fight), you'll keep that limit in mind. "It's a lot like being in a couples therapy session where you know you have to be out the door in an hour," says Davidson. When one of you notices that you've been going at it for, say, 45 minutes, start wrapping it up by taking turns making summary statements. You can even set a timer for 15 minutes, and when it dings, lights out!
Rule Break #2
Designate a special, weekly date-night
Every relationship article encourages weekly date nights-and you may think that doing something utterly out of this world is a required component. Not so much. Coming up with a prodigious plan is stressful, not to mention expensive. Who has the money to pay for a night on the town plus a sitter these days?
Instead: Take advantage of pockets of time for mini-dates, suggests Marci Fox, Ph.D., a psychologist in private practice in Boca Raton, Florida. Order in Chinese after the kids are in bed and cuddle on the couch watching a movie on DVR or sneak out and meet for lunch in the middle of the afternoon. "Whether it's just the two of you taking a walk around the block or sitting on the back porch watching the sunset, the important thing is to show each other that you care," says Fox.
MORE: Why Couples Start Dressing Alike (PHOTOS)
Rule Break #3
You must tell each other everything
Sure you need honesty in a relationship, but that doesn't mean you have to tell your spouse absolutely everything. You backed into another car in the parking lot? Confession required. You bump into the guy you had a torrid affair with before you met your husband? Details not required.
"In our Oprah/Tell-All generation, we think we have to spill our guts all the time," says Sallie Foley, director of the University of Michigan Sexual Health Certificate program and co-author of "Sex Matters For Women." "But the truth is, some things are better left unsaid."
Instead: Before fessing up, do a gut check: Is what I'm about to say going to come back to haunt me? Is what I'm about to tell him based on guilt? Is this going to make my partner feel better or worse about himself? "Honesty is good, but not causing another person unnecessary pain is good too," says Foley. So at the mall, look your partner straight in the eye and say, "Yes, I knew him. Different time in my life." Then do your gut check before deciding whether or not to share more.
Rule Break #4
If you're not sleeping in the same bed every night, you're in trouble
In theory, snuggling up in bed beside a loved one is the formula for a perfect night's sleep. But in reality, two people with different habits can make for a very uncomfortable and annoying night. You may love to read in bed until all hours but your husband likes to turn in early. He may snore; you may toss and turn all night. Think rationally about this: If you're sacrificing a full night of z's for a partner who's sleeping soundly (and noisily!), the physical, emotional, mental and overall health of your relationship will suffer.
MORE: A Proven Secret for Better Sleep
Instead: Davidson says one of you needs to bed down elsewhere guilt-free-whether it's a guest room or the sofa in the living room, someone should put it to good use.
Rule Break #5
You always need to see eye to eye on the big decisions
While seeing life exactly the way your partner does would make life infinitely easier-it would also be awfully boring. You and your partner are two different people; you were raised differently, you're biologically different and no two people see everything the same way. "People confuse harmony with complete agreement," says Foley. "But look at music-harmony is composed of different music that blends well together," she adds.
Instead: Big decisions require compromise and collaboration. Take some time to talk it through together. Gather as much information as possible in advance and write down the points you agree upon and those where you differ. Is there any overlap? Do your best to find some middle ground you both can live with.
- Leslie Pepper