Few things in life are more challenging than maintaining a relationship. While for some it’s easy, for others it may take a lot of work. Sometimes one person feels the need to improve themselves to keep the relationship afloat, and sometimes it’s the other way around. Communication, honesty, passion, empathy, and countless other factors determine how a relationship will or won’t work out. Unfortunately some of those nuggets of relationship wisdom we hear are either misleading or just flat-out wrong.
- You can train your partner, or change them
Personal growth is always an important factor in relationships, and if both parties grow at different speeds, it can negatively effect the relationship. It’s been said that some people change partners instead of changing themselves. But personal growth doesn’t mean you can try to change your partner or force them to grow, that’s up to them. You can express concern over these differences but it isn’t up to you to “change” or “train” anyone- that’s a form of dishonesty in a way, because you’re less invested in your partner than your idea of who your partner could become. If you can’t stay with them as they are, express that to them but don’t demand that they change for your sake and certainly don’t attempt to manipulate them into being the person you want them to be.
- Lower your standards
This one isn’t necessarily always wrong- if you exclusively want to date models and bodybuilders you’ll end up lonely and miss out on fantastic people. But during long stretches of singledom you may end up going with someone you’re vaguely interested in so you’re not lonely anymore. The result is almost always a relationship that’s either a non-starter or fizzles, leaving one or both feeling worse off. Above all, though, it’s tremendously unfair to the person you’ve “settled” for. Instead, work on your perspective. Maybe you’re prioritizing appearance over personality, or making snap judgements. Plus, while you’re single, you need to take that time to work on- and care for- yourself. This includes doing things that will make you attractive to the kinds of people you want to attract.
- Love is enough
This is a hard one I had to learn, and I’d be elated if even one of you avoids making the same mistake after reading this. Our emotions can often be so overwhelming that it feels like reality- not just the thing we’re experiencing on the inside. Love alone will not keep a relationship afloat. You also need to understand each others’ wants and needs, and be able to address flaws before they get worse.
In my case, not only was I unaware of the severity of my partner’s problems, she was unclear on it as well. It took the breakup for her to be able to understand why she was so unhappy. All the love in the world couldn’t save that relationship, what we needed were significant life changes, both external and internal.
- Opposites Attract
This is a case of something being common just because it’s an interesting concept. Just because something is interesting doesn’t make it true, though. Back in the 50’s, for instance, Sociologist Robert F. Winch ran a study which found that it was more important that traits are complimentary- not necessarily that they’re the same or different. Although similarities tend to carry more weight, certain traits could compliment those of their partner’s. For example, if one has difficulty mingling at social gatherings, they would likely find joy in a partner who respects their reserved nature while also being capable of doing the social heavy-lifting. Every couple is different, and there are plenty of couples where the two are very different, but to say more different is somehow better is just not realistic at all.
- Look for someone who loves all the stuff you love
If you’re in a relationship, do you love absolutely everything they love? Do they like anything you just can’t stand, or don’t see the appeal of? If you have a crush, do you want to like everything they like in order to get their attention? I hope you’re seeing a pattern here; there’s nuance to relationships and you really have to play things by ear and understand your personal needs, their needs, and a healthy balance of independence and devotion. It’s totally possible to find someone who happens to share most of your interests, but be watchful of someone who may be assimilating out of dependency issues instead of being independently interested in the same things. That’s a strong sign of codependency, and if you notice yourself doing it, that’s a sign that you have some personal work to do.
- If they can’t handle you at your worst, they don’t deserve you at your best
This one is still somehow quite popular despite being, well… Nonsense. We all have our breaking points, and sometimes we do or say things we deeply regret that hurt people we care about. The key is to prevent that from happening by regulating your behavior in a healthy way. This common saying carries the risk of dismissing any consequences to your own actions. You are never entitled to someone that can “handle” you at your worst. Instead, you should pay attention to what your worst *is*, and how you can keep that from hurting others without hurting yourself in the process.
- Age is just a number
This is another case of a common saying getting ahead of itself. The phrase “age is just a number” signifies not just that age gaps are fine, but that age doesn’t really matter as much as we think it does. While age gaps aren’t as much of a problem as society sometimes pretends it is (particularly in cases where a woman is dating a younger man), they also aren’t a non-issue, and ignoring the dynamics of age in your relationship can lead to cracks that you might not catch until a breakup occurs. Perdue University’s Department of Psychological Sciences released a paper addressing the issue of age in multiple types of relationships and found that there is no easy answer. Age gaps come with power dynamics that need to be recognized. In my own personal life, a substantial age gap cracked what I thought was an unshakeable foundation, because no matter how long you’ve been together, you need different things out of life in your mid-20’s than you do in your early 30’s.
Another caveat to this, however, is best summarized by magicians Penn and Teller. They (I mean Penn) remarked that Penn had been a student in Teller’s English class, and that’s how they had met, but they are now “the same age”. In other words, the older you get, the less that gap means anything. Get old enough and hey, maybe age really does become “just a number!”
Have you experienced any of these? What’s some less than stellar advice you’ve gotten on relationships? Let us know in the comments!
Winch, Robert F., et al. “The Theory of Complementary Needs in Mate-Selection: An Analytic and Descriptive Study.” American Sociological Review, vol. 19, no. 3, 1954, pp. 241–249. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/2087753. Accessed 5 Jan. 2021.
Lehmiller, Justin and Agnew, Christopher, “May-December Paradoxes: An Exploration of Age-Gap Relationships in Western Society”
(2011). Department of Psychological Sciences Faculty Publications. Paper 27.