Don’t go to bed angry. Now there’s a well worn piece of advice for couples, don’t you think? I confess, I’ve gone to bed miffed a few times in life, but the principle of not hanging on to bad feelings is important. It’s about not letting issues fester, but rather, dealing with them like adults.
Now, I can’t say that I’m overly fond of our contemporary tendency to package everything up into a nifty numbered list, convinced the gems we’re reading will replace real world consideration. Not that I can deny the psychological appeal of so tantalizing a trick, much less my own inability to pass up plenty of those lists with their catchy headlines.
I’m certain you know the ones: 6 tips for this, 12 steps to that, the 10 best or worst whatever…
Oh, if the road maps to love, success, health and wisdom were only so simple!
Occasionally, I indulge in this exercise myself, though I hope I offer a wee bit of context for my lists, or at least sufficient caveats so as to leave the door (and windows) open to interpretation.
Quick Advice on Love? Hmmm… Not So Fast!
So how about eight examples of lazy, potentially counterproductive counsel from exactly this type of list — if we don’t take the recommendations with a grain of salt. Listen. I’m all for a good piece of advice, especially when offered by someone with knowledge and experience. Particularly in the realm of personal relationships, we need to pay close attention to what we’re reading or being told — fully cognizant that any number of angles, interpretations and exceptions definitely apply.
I came across this list entitled “50 Timeless Pieces of Advice About Love & Relationships.” To be fair, some of the items gave me pause, encouraging me to think, so thumbs up for that. And some of them, I agree with, and no further qualification seems necessary.
As I read these snippets of advice, I find myself examining my own past romantic interludes. Naturally, I realize ways in which these “tips” do and don’t apply. Among the 50, here is my list of the items I find to be woefully insufficient, misleading, or wrong-headed.
- The person who cares least has the most control.
- Always be the first to genuinely apologize after a fight.
- If she threatens to leave, help her pack her bags.
- If you love the memories more than the relationship, it’s time to move on.
- It takes two happy people to make a happy relationship.
- Love is not a feeling. It is a choice.
- The best sign of a healthy relationship is no sign of it on Facebook.
- If it’s broken, fix it. If you’ve lost count of how many times it’s broken, or the cost of repair far outweighs the initial outlay, throw it away and move on.
The issue I have with all of these items listed is this: They make no suggestion of context, when the context is vital to their relevance and usefulness.
Dissecting Love Advice: Fight or Flight?
As for the person who cares least exerting control, how do we measure that caring? Doesn’t this assume they aren’t invested in the continuation of the relationship? Besides, we all know that issues of control come into relationships at strange times and can manifest in often unfortunate ways. And, “control” as well as degrees of caring are not absolute. Assumptions, assumptions, assumptions a-plenty!
The first to apologize after a fight? Major assumptions there, too, I’d say. What if one partner is the one always doing the apologizing in order to keep the peace? Doesn’t it take two with this approach to make it valid?
If someone threatens to leave, I take this as an expression of hurt or frustration. To me, unless a long string of confrontations precede this declaration, this is an opportunity to sit down and really communicate, not to pack their bags! And doesn’t a glib statement like this ignore all the shared responsibilities and other affected parties (children, extended family) that should encourage us to try to resolve issues rather than run away?
Comparing memories to the current state of affairs in the relationship? Take your leave if good memories are better than current dealings? Again, that ignores children, extended family, promises made to work through tough times. The very fact of good memories tells me there’s a foundation to work from. What is needed is communication and consideration, not a knee-jerk suggestion to take flight.
That said, if only one party is willing to repair, or if most of the relationship has been troubled, you may indeed be at the end of the line.
Two happy people = happy relationship? The assumption here is that if one is unhappy, the relationship cannot be good. Well, life tosses us challenges that may drain us of our joy for a time. Should we add the breakup of a couple to the problems to be dealt with?
Where I do agree, reading between the lines — if we are profoundly unhappy, another person cannot “make” us happy. They can, however, support us in the work we have ahead to deal with our underlying challenges.
Love is not a feeling, but a choice. This one isn’t so cut and dry. I believe that “love” is an umbrella term we use to cover a broad set of emotions and behaviors. They include friendship, trust, respect, admiration, infatuation, desire, tenderness, affection and more. To say there is an element of choice in loving is true in my experience, but “love” is indeed a very private orchestra of emotions with a wide range in register.
Your Facebook handling of relationships? I’d say that depends on you… your age, your marital status, your tendency to share a great deal or be circumspect. For those who are married and enjoy social media, that they should mention a spouse (and family) on Facebook hardly seems damning. Then again, if your relationships are changing frequently and you air your dirty laundry on the Internet, I’d say it might be time to reconsider your sharing habits.
Who is to say when a relationship is broken? Can one party, unilaterally, decide this is the case? For a long-term committed relationship, shouldn’t both agree that it’s irrevocably broken? Isn’t the statement “throw it away and move on” both callous and short-sighted?
A six-month relationship, no kids involved, no promises made, and constant fights? Okay, I’d say move on. A three-year relationship (or marriage), family involved, promises made? Five years? 10? 20? Different story entirely. In fact, here is where I recommend two pieces of advice from the list referenced that I find brilliant.
Brilliant Relationship Advice
Two simple pieces of relationship advice that are easily forgotten:
- When dealing with tough issues and communicating, hold hands.
- Always fight the problem, not the other person.
I’ve paraphrased, but these (and many other) pieces of advice from the same list are, in my opinion, excellent. (Do link over and read. See what you think.)
When we actually touch another person with whom we have a disagreement — touch in a non-sexual way — we are making a vital physical connection. It becomes easier to calm ourselves, to feel like we are together in solving a problem. Like we are — following the second item just mentioned — “fighting the problem, not each other.” When we focus on the problem, we can identify behaviors or external factors that are causing friction. When we don’t point fingers and place blame, we don’t obscure the real issues.
It’s all too easy… and human… to lash out or pull back when we’re hurting or disappointed, to “move on” thinking this will solve a problem that may have less to do with the other person and more to do with ourselves, our responses, our triggers, or obstacles seemingly beyond our control.
What if we were to keep these two pieces of advice in mind whenever we run into problems with our spouses or significant others? How much easier would it be to get to the heart of the issues that stand between us, determine what are truly relationship deal breakers, and face challenges together?
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