Let’s face it: Marriages take work, and couples can use as much help as they can get. But, how can you best convey meaningful, useful, heartfelt advice for newlyweds within the limited space of a wedding card? We turned to some marriage and relationship experts for their thoughts on this tricky terrain and the words of wisdom that couples will truly appreciate. Here are some ideas for what to write (and what to avoid) in a marriage-advice card.
“Don't use it as a platform to push an agenda, vent, or take a cheap shot,” says Lee Wilson, a relationship coach with more than 20 years of experience. “Be genuine, honest, and thoughtful.”
That means avoiding unhelpful clichés. “They sound so good and we've heard them so much that they must be true, right?” Wilson says. “The problem is, sometimes they aren't true, they lack creativity and aren't personal, and clichés are often extremely vague.”
And, don't generalize sexes. “Men and women are different—it's also true that men are different from other men and women are different from other women,” Wilson notes. “Don't suggest that attitudes will be held or actions will be taken based on gender.”
Furthermore, don't make jokes at the expense of either spouse. “A wedding day is supposed to be a wonderful day for both of them,” Wilson points out. “Do you want to risk hurting feelings, offending, or even embarrassing one or both of them on their wedding day?” Getting a laugh is not worth the risk.
Finally, don't quote marriage experts unless you have experience with their advice. “You wouldn't suggest a restaurant you haven't been to or a Netflix series you haven't seen, so why would you recommend advice you haven't tried?” Wilson points out.
Though it's tempting to approach a marriage advice card as an opportunity to show off or get attention, do your best to keep the focus off of yourself and on the newlywed couple who is are receiving your advice. So, don't seek to be profound—seek to be helpful. “When you start to write your advice, remember that this shouldn't be a contest of who can sound the most profound,” Wilson says. “This isn't about impressive writing—it's about being genuine and providing practical guidance that can help two people have a stronger, happ[ier] marriage, a happier home, and, hopefully, some solid ground to stand on when their relationship feels uncertain.” Reject the pressure to show off and embrace the opportunity to communicate something helpful.
But, don't speak from bitterness or resentment, Wilson adds. Be careful not to project relationship problems that you have had onto this happy new couple. No whining or venting. Encourage and offer solutions for potential problems, but don't predict gloom and doom on this couple based on your unfortunate experiences.
And, be careful when it comes to sex. “I'm not saying sex should be kept in the shadows—it's so important, and encouragement in that area is a positive thing, but be careful how specific you get,” Wilson says. “It only takes a few words to sound creepy and awkward.” This is not a platform to show how great or diverse your sex life is. The focus should be on providing something helpful for this couple.
So, what is appropriate wedding advice to give in a card? Here are some ideas to offer, according to experts.
A healthy, long-term relationship has four vital components, according to Crystal Bradshaw, a licensed professional counselor specializing in couples counseling in Marietta, Georgia: friendship, trust, respect, and admiration. “Always act in the best interest of your partner and the relationship—have a “we” mindset and not a “me” mindset,” she says. “Give your partner the benefit of the doubt. During times of stress, find ways to navigate challenges in a more collaborative way. See yourself as a team, as intimate allies, not intimate enemies. You must be willing to see yourself and your partner as flawed human beings and still love yourself and your partner despite that. And, you must never stop playing with each other—play is so important.”
Sometimes being a team means putting your partner first. “One of the most damaging dynamics in a relationship is when one individual is still aligned and ‘married to’ their family of origin,” says New York-based Psychotherapist Aimee Hartstein, LCSW. “A true partnership requires that both parties commit to building a family together and have each other’s backs, even in the face of familial pressure.”
Remember to maintain your own life and interests. “You and your partner should be a team, but you shouldn’t expect anyone person to fulfill all of your needs all of the time,” Hartstein adds. “It’s important for you both to keep pursuing your interests and your friends.”
“Never assume that you know all there is to know about your partner,” Bradshaw says. “The moment you stop being curious about your partner is the moment when things will start to atrophy.”
Find ways to express your appreciation for your partner every day (not just on special occasions), and take an interest in something they do. “If it’s interesting to them, it should be interesting to you to the degree that you want to know your partner's inner world better,” she notes. Empathy also goes a long way. “Be considerate of your partner’s experience and use curiosity to understand and connect with them. They will feel less alone.”
Own your stuff—it always takes two people to contribute to relationship problems, says Hartstein. “It’s very easy to sit and point the finger at your partner and tell them what they have done wrong,” she says. “It’s harder and much more effective to look at your possible weaknesses and blind spots. The more we know how our patterns and habits contribute, the better the relationship will be.”
Agree that arguments will last no more than 20 minutes, advises New York-based Marriage and Family Therapist Vivian Jacobs. “After 20 minutes, accept that your disagreement will become the kitchen-sink effect,” where other grievances not germane to the issue at hand are tossed in. Set a timer, and when it goes off, stop immediately; agree to then resume the argument exactly where you left off tomorrow at the same time and place. “Chances are after this time-out, 20 minutes will feel like forever!”
If you find yourself getting irritated with your partner, think of the things you like about him or her, and what they do that you appreciate. “One exercise I have couples do is to have three positive memories about their partner queued up, and call upon them in times when they are stressed and irritated with their partner,” Bradshaw says. “I call this a reality check. Find memories of your partner where you felt loved by them, you knew they had your best interest at heart, where they were supportive of you, etc. These are the types of things you need to be able to see when you are seeing red.”
Research has shown that in healthy relationships there is a five to one ratio, Bradshaw notes. “For every one bad thing that happens, the couple needs five positive things to balance that one negative,” she says. “You have to be able to reflect on your relationship as a whole and be able to see that your partner has your best interest at heart and you have countless memories and experiences of [him or her] that demonstrate this.” The ratio changes dramatically for unhealthy couples—for every one negative interaction between a couple, 20 positive ones are needed to bounce back.
Withdrawing is a refusal to communicate or cooperate with someone by giving short answers and insignificant responses. “This can mean not answering a question, responding with another question, or appearing to not be interested or even listening,” Jacobs says. “This increases the distance, as one feels unheard or seen. Turning your body away from your partner, looking at your phone, or walking out in the middle of a discussion creates hurt and pain. This vicious cycle is often a vain attempt to protect oneself.”
Just like how the initial honeymoon period doesn’t last forever, your relationship will have peaks and valleys, notes Hartstein. “Sometimes, you are getting along great and in a nice rhythm, and sometimes you will irritate each other and need a break,” she says. “As long as you don’t expect things to be perfect all the time, this isn’t necessarily a problem. It’s life.”
Have a sense of humor! “Even the worst fights can be worked through if you can laugh at yourself a bit,” says Hartstein. “And, humor is a real point of connection between people.”