Image: The Notebook.
Despite all their good intentions, the people we seek relationship advice from aren’t necessarily going to deliver it in a neutral, objective or professionally-trained way. Furthermore, many of the popular ‘pearls of wisdom’ that get thrown around could actually cause more harm than help.
Here, relationships experts share the seven pieces of advice that aren’t as helpful as they sound.
1. “Treat your partner the way you want to be treated.”
Although this is usually said with the best of intentions, it’s actually not an overly helpful guiding principle for interacting with your partner.
“In relationships this is a big no-no. We should not treat our partner the way we want to be treated, but the way they want to be treated,” explains Désirée Spierings, relationship counsellor and Director of Sexual Health Australia.
“If you treat your partner the way he or she wants to be treated, and both of you do this, you will both be happy.”
2. “‘The One’ should be everything to you.”
Nobody can be everything all at the same time. So why is there a lingering belief that one magical person can be your lover, your best friend, your closest confidante, your rock and your own personal psychologist/life coach/financial adviser/pest control personnel?
“It is OK for your partner to have flaws, too, and for you to have flaws. Remember, those who don’t love the worst of you don’t deserve to love the best of you,” Spierings says.
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3. “If you’re not happy, you need to leave.”
Yuliya Richard, Director and Principal Psychologist at Blue Horizon Counselling, stresses that it’s not always wise to apply a piece of general, simplistic advice to your own relationship in the hope it will fit.
For example, saying “just leave” could cause a couple to split because they think doing so will magically dissolve any unhappiness. “However, they forget to examine themselves and make a distinction between their own unhappiness or dissatisfaction that stems from a lack of personal or professional growth from the unhappiness within their relationship,” Richard explains.
This kind of advice can also be disempowering, because it doesn’t encourage people to understand the issue and find ways to work on and improve it.
“Often it is better to examine yourself and your contribution to co-created unhappiness and to seek help to solve it. Pay attention to changes in your mood, changes in circumstances, what is missing in your relationship and whether you are good friends with your partner,” she advises.
4. “Never leave an argument unresolved.”
Ever been told not to go to bed angry? While resolving arguments as they happen seems like a wise approach, Spierings says doing so can actually make things worse — especially if your communication has become angry and highly emotional.
This is known as “flooding”, and it can significantly raise your heartbeat and cause you to switch from your rational brain to your emotional one, which affects the way you think and communicate. If you or your partner are clearly triggered it might be wiser to call a ‘time out’ and schedule another time to talk it through constructively.
“So don’t just walk away or leave your partner hanging there, but tell them you really care about what they have to say and you want to take time to discuss this properly,” Spierings explains. Plan what and how you want to communicate with your partner, and be sure to listen and try to understand their viewpoint.
5. "Conflict is bad for your relationship."
Maybe in an ideal world we'd have nothing to argue about, but in reality disagreements are inevitable. "You have two individuals with different upbringings, backgrounds, likes and dislikes in a partnership so it is only natural that there will be areas of disagreement," Richard says.
This can actually be a positive sign, Spierings adds: "Arguing or discussing these differences means that we care enough to bring them up, that we are passionate about showing our partner our point of view."
However, not all arguments are created equal; people in 'happy' relationships tend to discuss their differences in a more constructive way without causing harm. "They will have an outcome to the disagreement, their arguments lead to some kind of solution or compromise," Spierings explains.
For successful conflict management, Richard recommends you avoid put-downs, name calling, threats, ultimatums, shouting, intimidation or offensiveness.
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6. "You should always sleep in the same bed."
'Sleeping in separate beds' is often used as shorthand for 'relationship drama', but Spierings says sharing a bed every single night without fail just isn't always practical — especially if someone is consistently being kept awake due to their partner's snoring, restless movements or blanket/mattress hogging tendencies.
"It's not about one partner being kicked out of the marital bed, but talking about what the problem is and seeing if there is something that can be done about it," Spierings explains. This might involve having two doonas instead of one, or investing in a bigger mattress.
"Instead of being worried what sleeping in different rooms would do to our sex lives, think about actually actively creating intimate moments, and with both of you sleeping well it can do wonders to your sex life too," she adds.
7. "A good relationship shouldn't be hard work."
The belief that a relationship should just float along happily — and if it doesn't there's something wrong — is a little unrealistic. Perhaps that's the case during the 'honeymoon phase' (or in movies) but it's not going to be sustainable.
"In order to continue to be in a happy relationship, you need to continue to work on it. Work on the areas that you need to work on and accept those areas that you can’t," Spierings says.
Just like most things in life — studying, career, gardening, raising a pet — a healthy bond requires an investment of time and effort. But that doesn't mean it can't be fun.
"Create time — and not just for a Netflix date when both of you will fall asleep on a couch. Go out, do something romantic for each other, continue to learn about each other, offer support, love and care. It might seem simplistic but often we have expectations that our relationship will just survive and thrive without paying attention to it," Richard suggests.
What's the most helpful relationship advice you've been told?