There’s no shortage of relationship advice. You see it all over the Internet—from dating do’s and don’ts to habits that build your bond. You see it on the shelves of your local bookstore—titles on everything from how to communicate to how to behave to how to understand men (or women). You hear suggestions from your best friend, mom and even your colleagues. And certainly, many movies and TV shows paint all sorts of pictures of “real” love.
Of course, not all advice is created equal. And following some of it can actually be detrimental to your relationship or future romance.
We asked relationship experts to share the worst relationship advice they’ve ever heard. Below, you’ll find their insights—along with what really works.
Never go to bed angry. “This phrase is one of the most common and most destructive pieces of relationship advice I have ever heard,” said Cheryl Sexton, LMFT, a psychotherapist in private practice who specializes in working with families and couples. That’s because most of us are absolutely exhausted in the evening and certainly late into the night. We’ve had a full day working, parenting, paying bills and making dinner, she said. Which means we’re less likely to behave thoughtfully. Instead, we’re more likely to shut down or say something we’ll regret.
Sexton encourages all her couple clients to take structured time-outs: When your argument escalates, both partners agree to take a break. She recommends these guidelines:
- Take a break when either partner has entered the “red zone,” or is at a 6 on a 1-10 scale (1 being calm; 10 being screaming and kicking furniture). “Once we enter the red zone, all logic and reasoning can go out the window,” Sexton said. “I have also never heard of someone making such a brilliant point while their partner is in the red zone that they immediately leave the red zone and agree about that perspective.”
- Use “we” language when asking for a break: “We are not getting anywhere here, so let’s take a break,” or “We are not being productive, so let’s take a break.”
- Agree in advance—when everyone is calm—on how long your break will last. This will be different for everyone. As Sexton said, some couples need 15 minutes. Others need the entire night.
- When one person requests a break, both partners must honor it. Both partners agree to return to the conflict and resolve it. “So, if you need to go to bed angry, do it. Just agree to come back to it within a reasonable time-frame.”
Make your partner jealous. The reasoning behind this advice is that it’ll make us more desirable. The less interest we show and the less attention we give, the more our mate will want us. In reality, “The more you keep yourself from expressing your true emotions, the more distance and conflict is created,” said Jennine Estes, a marriage and family therapist who owns a group practice called Estes Therapy in San Diego.
Your partner becomes anxious, wondering if they actually matter to you. Which leads them to seek reassurance by texting more, pushing for sex or getting irritable, or becoming critical and threatening to leave, she said.
Relationships that are meant to be don’t take work. “Yes, many healthy relationships have a flow to them and the connection and comfort with that person (with time) should feel natural,” said Rebecca Nichols, a licensed clinical professional counselor who specializes in relationship issues throughout the life cycle, especially dating and divorce. However, every relationship goes through rough patches and tough times, she said. And that doesn’t mean it’s “unhealthy or doomed.”
Plus, as Sexton said, “Anything worthwhile takes work.” If you love your job, that probably took some work and maybe even sacrifice. Maybe it took years of schooling, or years of building your brand from the ground up. If you’ve finally accepted or embraced yourself, that likely took effort, too. We are constantly evolving and growing, and that takes work. So it’s understandable that when two different people from two different families get together, it’s not smooth sailing the entire time.
Couples who have high marital satisfaction rates still report that they weren’t always happy, Sexton said. “There are periods of time in most long-term relationships where your needs are not being fully met, where one or both partners are unhappy, where huge transitions are taking place, and where the focus shifts off of the marriage for a time.”
And relationships take daily tending, which includes making time for each other, listening to each other and doing kind things.
The best relationship advice includes calm, clear, authentic communication. It includes attending to your relationship. Because everything grows and thrives with regular nourishment.
Stay tuned for part two with more terrible advice.