For a Very Special Episode 260 of my podcast, Happier with Gretchen Rubin, we asked listeners to share their best relationship advice. Listen to the episode to hear us discuss some of our favorite tips. Different advice will resonate with different people.
Most people gave advice about romantic relationships, but if you change the terms—”sweetheart” to “children” or “spouse” to “co-worker”—similar principles apply to just about every relationship. The same rules apply!
Much of the advice submitted overlapped. Some common themes:
- Don’t take your sweetheart for granted; say out loud how much you appreciate all that this person does.
- Show consideration and courtesy.
- Don’t keep score.
- Do let the sun go down on your anger, probably you’ll see things differently in the morning after a good night’s sleep.
- Don’t criticize your sweetheart to other people.
- It’s very important to have a feeling of friendship as well as romantic attraction.
- Communicate—which means both speak up and listen.
- Assume the best intentions.
*Note: this advice has been edited for length and clarity.
Relationship Advice Round-up from Happier podcast listeners:
On managing shared work:
- “During my first year of marriage, a mentor at work gave me advice that works in many types of relationships: ‘Quality Control owns the task.’ Meaning you’re not allowed to critique how someone else gets a job done, at least to a certain degree. Whether it’s an email to a client, or your partner loading the dishwasher or combing your child’s hair, if you can’t handle how they’re doing it, then you either need to learn to let go or do it yourself.” – Lindsay
- “I’ve learned not to be frustrated if I request that my husband do something I’m capable of doing myself. For instance, if I ask him to check on flights/hotels for a trip we’re taking, and he doesn’t get around to it after a few days, I cannot get mad and label him as lazy, when I’m just as capable of doing the action myself!” – Carty
- “If it matters to me, then it’s my responsibility. I can’t expect him to take care of things that are important to me, and not important to him. I have to remind, he gets frustrated, and I wind up doing it anyway.”
On when to compromise:
- “Our pre-marital counselor told us: ‘When we compromise, no one gets what they want. So compromise less. Have conversations, set goals and find ways that you both get what you want. Win-win is possible.'”
- “My mother told me very early on, ‘Nobody breaks up because they have too much in common.’ She emphasized that I needed to know what my non-negotiable values and beliefs that my partner had to share, so that I could also find another person who knew their values as well…When you find a partner who aligns with you on the deepest values you hold, the rest will work out in the wash.” – Tiffany
- “You don’t have to have a lot in common with your spouse to have a great relationship—I wouldn’t be married to my wonderful husband today if I’d been concerned with interests rather than values.” – Rachel
- “The best thing I learned was from my current partner. She told me early on that I could always ask her anything, but I had to be prepared to hear the answer ‘no.’ It helped us to develop an interdependent relationship and to be conscious of our own needs, as well as one another’s.”
On why it’s important to show your appreciation and be clear about what you want:
- “My best piece of relationship advice is to say ‘thank you’ more than is necessary. Thank you for doing the dishes, changing the diaper, filling my tires with air, etc. As a stay-at-home mom with little kids, my to-do list feels never-ending, and I sometimes feel resentment towards my husband because I feel like I’m doing everything. But with saying thank you I acknowledge the work he is doing both to give him positive affirmation and also to remind myself that he does a lot of work both inside and outside the home.” – Maria
- “Here is the best marriage advice I ever received and it was ironically at a wedding from a catholic priest: ‘Say thank you every day. Say I am sorry every day. Say I love you every day.’ I think of this advice often and do my best to follow it, and it’s been a great tool to stay connected with my spouse.” – Sarah
- “You don’t have to apologize for something you didn’t say.” – Linda
- “The best advice I’ve gotten is to not expect your partner to read your mind. Sometimes it’s not romantic to have to spell out exactly what you want/expect for an anniversary or birthday or whatever, but it’s a lot more romantic than being disappointed and building resentment!” – Megan
- “I ASK my sweetheart to do something, I don’t TELL him to do it.” – Mary Beth
- “The greatest relationship advice I’ve ever heard is actually from the TV show Parks and Rec. One of the characters Ann (Rashida Jones) is having a bad day and her always-positive boyfriend Chris (Rob Lowe) tries to solve all of her problems…which only seems to frustrate Ann more. Eventually, Chris gets the advice he needs from two other characters (Tom and Donna) which is to simply say, ‘Darn. That stinks.’ The point is that sometimes you just need to let the person know, ‘Hey, that really stinks and I’m sorry that’s happening to you.’ Don’t try to fix it in that moment. It’s amazing—most of the time that’s all someone needs to hear!” – Michele
- “While I discovered this with my husband, I have since used it with friends and coworkers as well. In trying to make a decision with another person, I will sometimes ask, ‘On a scale of 1 – 10, how much do you care?’ This was essential in wedding planning, as my now-husband, not wanting to seem lazy, would give me his opinion. Even if he didn’t care. So when I was about to throw a fit over color, I stepped back and asked him how much he cared—which was a 2 or 3. He didn’t want a terrible color, but he likes most of the spectrum. I got the color I wanted since I cared more. Likewise, I have been surprised when I thought something was unimportant, and he valued it VERY highly (like food). This has stopped arguments before they even start, and helps us to conserve energy. It also helps us talk about what we value, which has led to us getting to know each other better.” – Stephanie
- “I always need to say ‘yes’ to his parents about all things, and he needs to be the one to say no. I can say “ sure” even when I mean “no way,” and then I can tell him the situation and he can tell his own parents “no” or amend the situation. Sons and daughters can handle their parents way better than a spouse can—especially a new spouse or fiancé.” – Julie
On concrete, actionable actions that strengthen relationships:
- “The advice my husband and I give newly marrying couples is to always have separate bathrooms if you can swing it.” – Elizabeth
- “Get a king-size bed. A little extra personal space goes a long way.”
- “I once saw a comedian couple say to ‘Just imagine they are five years old’ when your spouse does something you don’t like. It makes me pause and think if he is hungry, tired, overworked, etc. It also just lets me laugh at some things that otherwise might annoy me.” – Kelly
- “I actually love something I read in your book and have shared with lots of friends—every couple should have an indoor game and an outdoor game!” – Haley
- “BE FESTIVE and find reasons to celebrate. Create a home that is festive in spirit.” – Meg
- “When you walk into the door after work or your partner walks in, take time to say check-in, say hello, etc. and don’t start off with a ‘to-do’ list.” – Lynn
- “The most important piece of marriage advice is ALWAYS have your own secret stash of snacks hidden somewhere in the house.” – Gordon
- “My best relationship advice is to get a joint email address with your significant other to use for joint household items (like bills or kid-related items).” – Erin
- “Live below your means financially so you can afford to play.” – Kimberly
- “Keep schedules fairly similar. The worse time in our marriage was when we had different schedules. Little by little our friend groups changed and our lives started going in different directions. We didn’t even notice it until it really caused issues. Luckily we worked through it. Now we have similar schedules as a priority when choosing jobs.”
- “A patient once told me that the key to marriage is to never be mad or quit on the same day as your partner.” – Jamie
- “My 3-Day Rule: at the moment that I recognize anything that might set me off, I quietly ask myself if this will matter in 3 days. Learning to keep my mouth shut and digest the totality of any given situation was the key. If something was still bothering me three days later, then I absolutely brought it up for discussion. There’s a lot of time in 3 days to evaluate and weigh exactly what I need to say, AND how best to say it.Equally predictable: at least 9 out of 10 times, the 3-day rule has avoided confrontation entirely.” –Ann
On the fact that you bring your own weather to the picnic:
- “I’ve been happily married for 32 years and the best advice I received and give is you are responsible for your own happiness—not your spouse.” – Bren
- “Your partner doesn’t complete you, they complement you.” – Kim
On listeners’ advice for their younger selves:
- “Don’t sweat the small stuff. My husband and I both lost our first spouses at a younger age and I wish I had known how my time with my first husband would be cut short.” – Gladys
- “After being in a 2-year long-distance relationship (and ultimately ending it), if I have a friend or acquaintance who is in a long-distance relationship if asked for advice, I say: ‘If you have no specifics on when you’ll be reunited long-term, maybe you should reconsider the relationship.’ And, ‘You can’t nurture a long-distance relationship by yourself.'” – Mirna
- “This relationship advice comes from my 15-year-old self (I’m 38 now) after a guy who made me swoon dumped me: Never convince someone to like you. This was my guiding principle through high school and college and has never failed me. It’s empowering and objective. No gray areas!” – Krista
On how to fight right (“Fight right” was a big theme in my book The Happiness Project):
- “When in an argument, if the other person says, ‘You’re right,’ DON’T keep making your point. You already ‘won.’ Even if the other person doesn’t mean it!” – Cassie
- “Try to break up a stressful situation or conversation with humor.” – Kamiah
- “Always fight naked. You’ll look pretty stupid.” – Karolyne
- “Praises in public, problems in private.” – Emily
- “It’s not about what you argue about. It’s about HOW you argue.” – Cristi
- “I heard this recently and it stuck with me: ‘Don’t confuse roommate problems with relationship problems.’ Living with other people is hard (I leave tea bags in the sink, much to my husband’s annoyance. He wears shoes in the house.). It’s easy to let these little irritations become bigger problems. But we have a great relationship and he’s amazing—supportive, kind, loving, reliable, responsible, fun, a great dad, etc.” – Kate
Use the Four Tendencies framework:
- “My relationship advice is tailored particularly for Obligers like myself. When starting out in a relationship, personal, work or otherwise, take care to not be so agreeable or flexible that the other person never learns who you truly are. For example, if you always defer to the other person’s restaurant choice, it can be unsettling for them to find out months down the track that you don’t actually like Japanese food. The other person can then begin to question what other core truths about yourself you’ve been holding back in an effort to be likable.” – Laura
- “My husband and I have always been in tune with each other, but I could never really understand why it was so hard to get him to do the things we talked about or follow through on things he wanted to do for himself when I have always been self-motivated and don’t need someone to check in with me. I’m sure you know where this is going already, but taking your Four Tendencies quiz changed our marriage. As an Upholder, I make a plan and stick to it, but as an Obliger, my husband always needs that accountability to get things done. It’s as if something clicked in both of us that helped us to fully understand each other. I know romantic partners don’t make good accountability partners, but the biggest game-changer that we’ve instituted is having a ‘family meeting’ between the two of us every Sunday night after our son goes to bed to check in with each other and go over plans for the week and talk about things that need to get done. I keep a list of things that I want to check in with him about throughout the week so when we sit down to meet, he can send that email he’s been putting off or scheduling that overdue appointment right then, rather than me shooting him a text as I think of things, and they instantly fall off his radar. I always keep my list from the previous week saved, so I can also check in about the things we have talked about. It may sound like a small thing, but it is something that we each take into account every single day.” – Joni
- “Not so much advice, but information—I still credit Better Than Before for setting our marriage up for success (I’m an Upholder and my husband is a Questioner, just like you guys!). I feel that understanding that my husband’s questions aren’t criticisms has completely changed how I view our relationship and saved us from a lifetime of misunderstandings. So thank you.” – Kayleigh
- “In college, I took a class called Sociology of Marriage and Family. The professor taught us all the stats on marriage/relationships that you might expect. But of all that I learned from him that semester (about 20 years ago), one statement has stuck with me. ‘Time will never hurt a good relationship.’ I took that to mean the longer you’re together, the stronger you should and could be.” – Michelle
- “When I got engaged my dad told me that there would be days, weeks, months, or possibly even years when I wouldn’t feel like being married to my future husband anymore but you stick it out and it’ll get better and you’ll be so grateful you didn’t act on those feelings. I have found it to be true and the best advice I ever got.” – Gail
- “Marry someone you admire, and who admires you.”
- The best advice I received when I married my sports-loving husband was, ‘Every game/match is important.’” – Sumi
- “Be your partner’s cheerleader, not their bully.” – Jessica
- “I’m currently reading Benjamin Franklin: An American Life. The author discusses Franklin’s search for a wife, which sounds more practical and thoughtful than romantic. The author Walter Isaacson shares that ‘As Franklin would soon have Poor Richard pronounce in his almanac: Keep your eyes wide open before marriage, half shut afterward.‘” – Courtney
- “The best relationship advice I ever received was at the bridal shower for my sister-in-law, over twenty years ago. All attendees were asked to share the best relationship advice they had ever received with the bride-to-be, who then read the cards aloud to the entire group. My maternal grandmother’s advice: ‘Love someone the most when they deserve it the least.’ My paternal grandmother’s advice: ‘Overlook a lot.’“– Janalen
Two listeners shared advice that seemed so profound that really, perhaps they sum up most of the other advice.
- “I wanted to share some advice from my dad. I got married in 2019, and my dad and I were choosing a song for the father-daughter dance. One of his suggestions was the song “All you need is love” and he explained to me that he has only ever received one piece of parenting advice, which was ‘Just love them.’ I found this so beautiful I started to cry. However anyone chooses to raise their children is the right way, as long as they always remember to love them.” – Ebony
- “My grandmother told me, ‘Be good to each other.’”
In the end, these two short phrases go a very long way.
Often, relationship difficulties stem from the fact that people of different Tendencies have different perspectives and thrive in different circumstances. If you’d like to use the Four Tendencies to strengthen your relationships, you might like to take the Four Tendencies video course. Many people have told me that understanding the Tendencies has helped with habit change, shared work, procrastination, etc.
My husband Jamie is a Questioner, and I’m much less annoyed by his questioning—as well as his refusal to answer my questions—now that I know he’s a Questioner. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that I’m often still annoyed, but I don’t take it personally anymore.
For more information, visit courses.gretchenrubin.com.
Want to find out if you’re an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger or Rebel? Take the free, quick quiz here. More than 2.5 million people have taken the quiz.
Many relationships are centered on the home. If you’d like to focus on that area, you might enjoy my book Happier at Home. Of all my books, my sister Elizabeth says this is her favorite.
If you’d like to see a list of my five favorite novels about relationships, it’s here.
If you’d like to see a list of some of my favorite works of non-fiction about relationships (romantic, friendship, children, workplace), it’s here.