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Relationship Advice from the 1950s That Amazingly Still Applies

Back in the 1950s, everyone watched I Love Lucy; young men slicked back their hair and young women wore poodle skirts. Americans believed in and trusted their politicians, too.

Not everything from the ’50s has gone out of style, though. Take some of the common relationship advice. If you ignore the outdated gender stereotypes about men bringing home the bacon and women frying it up in the pan just the way their men like it, a lot of the ’50s relationship advice still applies.

Or so I learned as I read through How to Help Your Husband Get Ahead, written in 1953 by Dorothy Carnegie who, at the time, was better known as “Mrs. Dale Carnegie.”

Tangent #1: I don’t know what I would do if a publisher listed my byline as Mrs. Mark Bowman.

Tangent #2: Just in case you were wondering, Dorothy Carnegie’s more famous husband Dale penned the international bestseller How to Win Friends and Influence People. He died in 1955, two years after her book was published. It seems Dorothy might not have followed her own advice in the chapter titled “His Life Is in Your Hands.”

Not a tangent: Now, there are plenty of reasons to roll your eyes at Dorothy Carnegie’s advice. Dale was her second of three husbands, after all. She met Dale through work; she was his secretary, the very kind of secretary she tells housewives not to envy.

And, yes, a lot of her advice is just plain outdated for modern times. For instance, she suggests a wife put on a new dress if her husband doesn’t like the one she’s wearing. Who wears dresses anymore? If I were updating that book, I’d edit it to read “change to a different pair of yoga pants if your husband doesn’t like the color you are wearing.” Carnegie also suggests we all work for our husbands — for free — to help them get ahead. Yeah, I’ll get right on that, right after I finish my own 8-hour work day.

But much of it actually still holds true. See for yourself.

  • Your Grandmom Is Right 1 of 12
    advicecollage

    Not everything from the '50s went out of style. Some of the top relationship advice given to housewives back then still works today. 

  • Say It Once, Then Forget It 2 of 12
    nagging

    When I first read those lines, I thought: "Now, Dorothy, infidelity is taking it a bit too far. Even you knew that when you wrote that line, didn't you?" But then I came across this Wall Street Journal story from 2012 that found that nagging is more common than adultery and just as toxic. According to Carnegie, belittling, complaining, whining, comparing, and sneering are all forms of mental cruelty. To cure it, she suggests you ask your spouse to point it out whenever you nag. In other words, ask your spouse to nag you about your nagging. She also suggests you adopt the rule: Say it once, and then forget it. It's easier said than done, of course, but it gets easier over time. Trust me. I know. I'm a recovering nagger.

  • Develop a Glamour Personality 3 of 12
    size14

    Don't get hung up on the size 14 part. Women in the 1950s were rounder than the sex symbols of today, and the obesity epidemic has also led to rampant vanity sizing. Yesterday's size 14 is probably today's size 8 or 10. And, sure, it'd be nice if that came back into style. But that's not the point. The art of pleasing your husband, Carnegie says, lies in being pleasant. Remember the little things that bring him happiness, she says. For instance, I make sure to notice the small things my husband does around the house. You would not believe how excited I can get about a new light bulb.

  • Don’t Be a Golf Widow 4 of 12
    sharing

    Lots of research supports this tip. So many couples complain that they have nothing in common. If that's the case, be adaptable, open-minded, and daring. Try some of the hobbies and activities he loves, and vice versa.

  • See the Man You Want Him to Become 5 of 12
    live-up-to-

    When I was working on my own marriage, this advice was front of mind. Act happily married and you'll become happily married. Do what happily married people do and, soon enough, your unhappiness will disappear. And what is it that happily married people do? Be kind. Be thankful. Be affectionate. Be generous. Be encouraging.

  • Cultivate the Seeds of Happiness 6 of 12
    limits

    One of the biggest lessons conveyed by the documentary Happy is this: Money, things, and prestige do not lead to happiness. Positive psychologists have many studies that show that giving makes us happier than getting, that complimenting someone else makes us happier than having someone tell us we've done a good job, and so on. So rather than a relentless push for more, bigger, and better, consider looking inside at the true sources of your unhappiness. Often discontent grows from the seeds of miserliness, close-mindedness, and meanness. One easy way to cultivate the seeds of happiness is this: Write down three things you are grateful for every day.

  • Be Thankful for Daily Love 7 of 12
    granted

    Keep an appreciation journal, and write three new things in it each day. This will keep you on the look out for new things to admire about your spouse, and you'll be a lot less likely to take things for granted.

  • Give x 100, and Then Give Some More 8 of 12
    giving

    Give compliments. Give smiles. Give hugs. Give enthusiasm. Give understanding. Give support. Give happiness.

  • Spread What You Want to Receive 9 of 12
    givehappiness

    This is just one of those karmic quirks of life and marriage. A marriage is a system of related parts. You change one part of the system and the rest of the system must adapt. If you become happier, your spouse will become happier by default. If your spouse becomes happier, he'll return that happiness to you. Grumpiness spreads like the flu virus in the middle of winter, and so does happiness. Which would you rather spread through your house?

  • Make Your House a Home 10 of 12
    boggeddown

    Well, let's just say that I've never once gotten bogged down in the endless routine of housekeeping. But I have watched a dear friend follow around party guests with a little dustpan, sweeping up all the crumbs that happen to fall from their plates. I once watched as another friend grabbed dishes from the table before most of the guests were done eating, and then made a big flurry in the kitchen as she began washing and violently cleaning. Both friends have immaculate houses, but they seem particularly unhappy, and their marriages are a bit frosty, too.

  • Let Go of the Small Stuff 11 of 12
    acceptance

    I don't know about you, but I love the word "trifle," and whenever I find myself obsessing over how my husband could not possibly see the sheet of dust on the television he watches so much, I'm going to tell myself not to get "upset over trifles."

  • Can You Hear Him Now? 12 of 12
    listen

    I can't tell you how many arguments I could have avoided had I merely done one thing: shut up and listen. How about you? Carnegie says a good listener listens with her whole body, looks at her partner as he's talking, leans forward slightly, and reacts with authentic facial expressions. Express alertness through your body language, she advises, and never betray his confidence.

Read more of Alisa’s writing at ProjectHappilyEverAfter.com.

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