When you’re trying to find someone to share your life with, or maybe just buffing out some of the sharper edges in an existing relationship, it’s always nice to have some time-proven tips and advice to fall back on. But some of the ones we hear over and over again are quite frankly terrible!
Below are some of the more popular tips that are still floating around, but how should you really respond? Many are either outdated or fail to take context into account, and really, who’s a better judge of context in a relationship than you?
1. Love comes when you least expect it.
You’ll often hear this from people who fell in love at the most unexpected time or with the most unexpected person. “Yep, there I was just minding my business, hiking the Appalachian trail…” or “I sat down at the wrong table and when I looked up…”
Granted, love often strikes out of nowhere, and maybe the reason this pearl of wisdom is doled out so often is because people who are actively seeking out love can come off as desperate. But if Cupid were always that random, there wouldn’t be entire industries dedicated to helping people find love. The whole point of dating sites is to connect people who took the time to fill out profiles. No matches would ever be made if everyone just sat back and waited for fate to intervene.
2. Get married because “it’s time.”
That may have been true in previous generations, when women typically married early and almost immediately started families, and you could consider yourself an old maid if you weren’t married by your mid-20s. But the human brain isn’t even considered fully developed until the mid-20s. You may feel pressured as you attend one wedding after another and cringe at the thought of standing with all the singles to catch the bouquet or garter.
But marriage is a commitment that shouldn’t be entered into just because your friends and family, or society at large, is telling you “it’s time.” Waiting until you’re older to get married, or not getting married at all, is far better than marrying the wrong person.
3. Arguing is unhealthy.
It can be, if it’s nonstop, or if one or both of you can’t distinguish between what is and isn’t worth arguing over. But even when a disagreement escalates to an argument, getting things out in the open is healthy in the long run. That’s assuming, of course, that both people respect each other’s point of view during the discussion.
Being in a healthy relationship doesn’t mean you never fight, says family therapist Emmalee Bierly, it “means having better communication skills to work through that conflict.”
Honest couples disagree all the time, over big things and small. Arguments that are constructive, rather than ones where you’re just throwing insults at each other, often lead to long-term solutions. That’s far better and much healthier than keeping your feelings tucked away, which just creates a breeding ground of resentment.
4. Opposites attract.
James “Ragin’ Cajun” Carville, a Democratic strategist, is married to conservative political consultant Mary Matalin (a Republican-turned-Libertarian). That may seem to prove the point, but whatever their differences, they have a shared passion for politics. A personal trainer who spends all her waking hours at the gym isn’t likely to have much in common with a couch potato, and that’s not to say either lifestyle is better or worse, just different.
Differences can help you to improve in weaker areas but pursuing a relationship with someone who’s your polar opposite doesn’t make a lot of sense.
5. Never go to bed angry.
We’ve all heard this bit of advice, but think about it: Are you able to be fully productive and gracious when you are exhausted? If you stay up into the wee hours of the morning arguing about finances or chores, you’ll just be useless the next day.
And even if you think you resolved the issue before lights out, chances are pretty good some things were left unsaid. Which means you’ll just pick up right where you left off, except now you’re not just angry, you’re tired and angry. Isn’t it wiser to just call a truce and sleep on it, and let cooler heads prevail in the morning?
Jaya Saxena, a relationship expert, says “gritting through a fight at all costs has its own consequences, and sometimes the only solution is to pass out and start again.”
6. Cyber snooping can save you from choosing the wrong partner.
It’s tempting at the start of a relationship, or when something seems off about your relationship. But trust us, this is a really, really bad idea. First of all, how would you like it if your privacy were invaded like that? And just as importantly, snooping around destroys trust (and why, exactly, would you want to stay in a relationship with someone you don’t trust?).
If you find something incriminating, your suspicions may be validated, but you’ll still feel terrible, points out relationship expert Jase Lindgren. And even if you don’t find anything suspicious, you’ll be “left wondering if they just did a good job of hiding it, or (if) you need to look harder — and you’re now proving yourself to be the untrustworthy one.”
7. Honesty is always the best policy.
Most people appreciate honesty, but brutal honesty to the point that you’re needlessly causing pain or hurting the other person’s feelings is another matter altogether. We all tell little white lies, like praising our daughter’s artwork when you really have no idea what she was trying to draw, or pretending to admire your husband’s new tie even when the color combination isn’t to your liking.
There’s a big difference between speaking untruths, simply to save someone’s feelings, and lying to cover something up. Or, for no real practical reason, just to purge it from your system. Telling your husband or wife about every indiscretion in every other relationship may ease your guilt, “but it may also increase your partner’s anxiety about whether your past behavior is a guide to future plans,” cautions licensed therapist John Ballew.
8. He/she will change.
Of course people change. You’re not the same person you were as a teenager, because you’ve had years’ worth of experiences, both good and bad, from which to learn and grow. The most significant changes we go through are largely self-motivated, and it’s a mistake to go into a long-term relationship or marriage thinking you can change your partner’s behavior to fit your own needs.
Eric Hunt, a wedding officiant and marriage and relationship coach, advises that while relationships do grow and evolve, “there are some personality traits and ways that will never change.” So do not move into a more serious relationship level with the mistaken thought that you are their savior.
9. Play hard to get.
This may have worked up to the 2000s, before the proliferation of online dating sites and social media. Now, with so many different venues to meet potential partners, the dating world is much more competitive. How many people do you know who have either the time or patience to pursue someone who’s not reciprocating?
“The vast majority of the time, playing hard to get guarantees that both of you are going to end up alone,” says dating expert James Anderson, but flirting back or at least showing some interest keeps your options open.
10. Look for a partner who loves all your hobbies.
Who wants to date themselves (well, other than a narcissist)? It never hurts to share some of the same hobbies, and in fact, shared interests can be the foundation for a great relationship. But when your partner gives up all of his interests in favor of your own, that’s a sign of co-dependency, says Megan Hunter, and author and co-founder of the High Conflict Institute. And one of the best things about relationships and sharing your life with someone else is expanding your own horizons and discovering new interests.
You never know, one day you might find yourself diving the Great Barrier Reef, something you never would’ve considered if it weren’t for your partner.
11. Each partner should do his/her fair share.
When you get right down to it, the best relationships are partnerships with intimacy. And each person should do their part to maintain it, whether that involves sharing household duties or childcare duties. But keeping a running tab on who did what and when, down to a precise 50-50, isn’t just exhausting, it can cause big problems, especially when an even split isn’t realistic.
As a silly example, it wouldn’t make sense to expect your husband to make dinner for half the week if he’s just started a graveyard shift or been promoted to a position that requires frequent overtime. When couples stop nitpicking over a precise splitting of the duties, there’s “less resentment, more gratitude, more happiness, more spontaneous affection,” says marriage educator Patty Newbold.
12. Maintain mystery throughout the relationship.
Maintaining the mystery is a great idea… when you’re planning a surprise party, a “spontaneous” weekend trip or something else, where secrecy is key. But when your boyfriend texts on a Sunday morning to let you know he’s on his way over, so you throw on a full face of makeup and change out of that extra-large t-shirt you’ve been lounging around in all morning, just so he’ll marvel at how you’re always so put together?
Let him see the real you! You want someone to love you for who you are, flaws and all, otherwise he’s getting to know someone who doesn’t really exist.
13. Counseling will fix all your problems.
Counseling can be great, but it only works when both partners are willing participants and actually engage in the process to find a solution to whatever the problem is. When couples go into counseling more out of a sense of obligation than to actually work things out, the counselor suddenly goes from being a trained professional to a referee.
Counseling only works when the couple’s in it together, reaching toward a goal. “Working together helps to create a ‘We got this’ mentality, which really means, ‘We got this – together.’ That is, both are reporting that they were able to work through conflict easier, or conflict didn’t last a long time/as long as in the past,” says Justin Tobin, a clinical social worker.
We’ve all heard these tips, or variations of them, from time to time, because they’ve been around forever. But that doesn’t mean they’re right, or that they’ll work for everybody. Share to spread these insights!