Relationship Tips from the Family Institute

Most couples periodically receive relationship advice, whether it comes from family members, strangers, or social media shares. While this guidance may be well intentioned, it often feels so impractical (“don’t go to bed angry”) or vague (“never stop dating”) that couples find little use for it.

For couples who want actionable, practical advice, The Family Institute at Northwestern University publishes a “Tip of the Month” series on relationships. Based on research and clinical practices, these tips are short enough to absorb quickly and put into use immediately. Below are a few recent tips featured in the series for maintaining a strong relationship.

Your Third Ear

Everyone’s heard of a sixth sense, but what about a third ear? A third ear works when a person goes beyond hearing his or her partner’s words to connect with the underlying tone. He or she also considers possible reasons behind the tone—whether it’s anger about a bad day at work or frustration after an argument with a family member. Using the third ear helps partners add context to a situation so they can step back and react in a more understanding and supportive way.

Unleash Vitality

Plenty of relationship advice focuses on preventing fights and arguments when, in fact, some conflict is healthy. Regular arguments can actually inject much-needed energy into relationships that otherwise feel stale and boring. This tip explains how facing difficult topics head on, having confrontations, and being more honest can help couples avoid relationship apathy.   

How to ‘Get It’

Listening may seem like a skill that comes naturally, but it’s actually fairly challenging, especially during an emotionally charged conversation with a significant other. This helpful tip demonstrates the specific ways in which people fail to listen, including by becoming defensive, planning a response while a partner is talking, or agreeing just to be polite. The tip also shares a simple but effective way to ensure that both partners are truly engaged and listening.

Nibble, Then Quibble

Research shows that hunger has the ability to turn annoyance into anger, frustration into fury, and a small argument into a full on fight. That’s because the brain isn’t able to function at its optimum level when glucose levels are low. To avoid this problem, couples who feel a fight coming on should determine when they last ate and consider having a healthy snack or meal before discussing what’s bothering them.  

Important But Not Urgent

Parents often believe their kids’ lives are filled with urgent needs—from help with a science project to a ride to soccer practice. This insightful tip explains how certain tasks that seem urgent might not be all that important. It also explores how mistaking a child’s seemingly urgent needs could cause couples to overlook much more important matters—like the health of their marriage. 

Couples at any relationship stage can benefit from these and other research-based tips archived by The Family Institute at Northwestern University. The Family Institute also regularly publishes new advice that couples can access on its website or receive via email.