There’s a lot of bad relationship advice out there—whether you find it in how-to articles, on the shelves of your local bookstore, or in conversations around the dinner table. When followed, it can spoil your relationship or a future relationship.
We’ve already featured some terrible tips in this earlier piece. Today, we’re sharing several more unhelpful perspectives, along with advice that genuinely helps.
Adjust your age or number of sex partners. Beginning your relationship with a lie is basically the antithesis to what relationships are. “The foundation to a healthy and successful relationship is security; both people need to know they can be vulnerable, open, and honest without losing the bond,” said Jennine Estes, a marriage and family therapist who owns a group practice called Estes Therapy in San Diego. Of course, lies do the opposite: They create distrust and conflict.
Plus, we all deserve to be loved, no matter our age or number of previous partners. “Our past is our past and there should be no shame to it,” Estes said.
Don’t depend on your partner. Many of the college students and young adults that Kirsten Belzer, LCSW, works with believe they shouldn’t be dependent on their romantic interests—advice they’ve heard from their peers. Some have even worried that they’re “codependent” because they think about their mate throughout the day and want to spend time together.
The term codependent “has been co-opted from its original meaning, which referred to the partner of a substance abuser who would unhealthily base their own happiness on the partner’s well-being,” said Belzer, a Chicago psychotherapist who specializes in couples, trauma, loss, and life transitions.
Our brains are actually wired to obsess about new partners and to yearn to be with them. It’s almost like we’re physiologically addicted to love.
Use this game-like tactic to land your love. Belzer also has had clients who’ve intentionally acted indifferently with people they really like because some book said appearing uninterested is the best way to hook a mate. Some people think they need to wait a certain number of days to call or text so they don’t appear desperate.
Numerous resources also tell women and men how they need to dress and act to attract a partner, she said. Wear heels. Go casual. Don’t ask about his job. Be positive (instead of making your usual pessimistic remarks). Make eye contact—but not too much. Mirror her behavior. Act dumb.
Basically, what such tactics have in common is that they suggest you mask your feelings and act in inauthentic ways.
According to Belzer, “books and articles that recommend various game-playing techniques in relationships are promoting some of the worst relationship advice, especially for people trying to find a long-term committed relationship.”
Instead, she stressed the importance of being our full selves, which is how we develop true intimacy and build trust.
Don’t fight. You might’ve heard that healthy couples never fight. But that’s not true. “All couples fight,” said Rebecca Nichols, a licensed clinical professional counselor who specializes in relationship issues throughout the life cycle, especially dating and divorce. “The difference is that healthy couples fight with respect.” That is, they don’t name-call or berate each other. They don’t issue threats.
“Healthy couples use disagreements to understand each other better and make changes to ensure the health of the relationship,” Nichols said. Conflict can help our relationship grow, and our connection to deepen. The key is to avoid getting defensive, to listen to our partner, and to be vulnerable.
Fights often start with surface complaints. According to Nichols, if couples are willing to delve deeper and discuss underlying issues, they’ll find that “You’re always late” is really “I worry that you don’t value spending time with me.” “You always leave the dishes in the sink” is really “This doesn’t feel like an equal partnership.”
Belzer stressed the importance of partners practicing the four S’s of healthy attachment: We need to feel physically and emotionally safe. We need to feel seen: Each partner understands the other or tries to understand. We need to feel secure: Each partner is present during tough times. We need to feel soothed: Each partner soothes the other’s nervous system.
The best relationship advice focuses on honesty and authenticity. It focuses on each partner being himself or herself. Fully. It focuses on cultivating trust and helping both partners to feel safe, supported, and loved.