I recently had the privilege of officiating the wedding of two friends from church. At their reception, they had a table where friends and relatives could write their “best marriage advice” and leave it for the newlyweds. I thought it was a great idea, and I admired the young couple for tapping into the wisdom of their loved ones and applying it to their relationship. The idea was great, but the part that made me cringe was when I read through all the marriage advice and realized that some people had unknowingly shared advice that is much more harmful than helpful.
My wife Ashley and I are always writing, speaking, and podcasting about helpful marriage advice, but for this article, I want to take a different approach. You’ll find all kinds of marriage advice out there, and some of the most popular advice is very unhealthy and potentially destructive to a marriage. Below are some of the most common occurrences of bad marriage advice and how to recognize them and avoid them in your marriage.
I’m sharing these popular pieces of “bad” marriage advice because I want to help break the cycle of bad advice being shared and followed. On the surface, all of these sound like they could be good advice, but if you look deeper, you’ll find some dangerous traps in each one. Please beware of these myths in your marriage and please don’t pass on this dangerous advice to others.
1. Follow your heart.
You might be thinking, “How can this be bad advice?” Well, for starters, the Bible actually says this is terrible advice…”The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)
The “heart” in this context doesn’t refer to the body part that pumps blood, but the emotional and spiritual core of who you are. At our core, we wrestle with selfishness and pride, and we can justify some terrible choices (including dishonesty, selfishness, adultery, etc.) by “following our hearts.”
Another word for “heart’ here could be “feelings.” Our culture worships feelings, and even wrongly believes love itself is just a feeling. Feelings are fickle and should never be the compass by which we base our decisions. Better advice would be to say, “Follow your heart only when your heart is following your faith, your principles and your commitments. Your feelings will catch up eventually.”
2. Do whatever makes you happy.
This one is a natural progression from “following your heart.” Our culture values the pursuit of happiness above nearly any other pursuit, but happiness is fickle and temporary when it isn’t grounded in something more profound. Ironically, the people who make happiness their sole pursuit usually wind up as miserable people. Instead of making happiness the end-goal, go after a life of purpose following God. Serve others and grow daily in your love for your spouse, and you’re very likely to find happiness along the way.
3. Your kids should always come first.
Again, this sounds like responsible, selfless, wisdom, but it’s terrible advice. Obviously, we need to make sacrifices for our children, but I’ve seen too many couples put their marriage on hold while they’re raising their kids only to wind up with an “empty nest” and an empty marriage at the same time. Give your kids the gift of growing up in a home where their parents are in a thriving, healthy marriage. Have the kind of marriage that makes your kids want to get married someday!
4. Hide some money from your spouse “just in case.”
We have a good friend whose mother pulled her aside on her wedding day and said, “Honey, I want your marriage to work, but just in case it doesn’t, you need to start a secret bank account and hide as much money as you can in case your husband ever leaves you or cheats on you. You can’t trust men.”
This mom had been burned in her marriage. And in an attempt to protect her daughter, she did more harm by planting seeds of dishonesty and distrust in her mind. Our friend took her mom’s advice and entered into the marriage with an escape plan. Years later, she confessed her misguided mindset to her husband, but she admitted that secrets sabotaged those early years in her marriage. We have to enter marriage with no exit strategy and with a commitment to be entirely honest and fully committed. The level of your honesty will determine the level of your intimacy and secrets will sabotage a marriage faster than anything. Don’t hide money, passwords, plans, or anything else from your spouse.
When someone gives you marriage advice, make sure it lines up with God’s word. And any advice that would cause you to put something else above your spouse is wrong. The best place for you and your spouse to turn to for advice regarding your marriage is the Bible.