The Worst Relationship Advice AND A Couples Therapist’s Responses

Most relationship experts don’t agree with the advice below. Read on to see how we refute these very common, but unhelpful, ideas:

1. You can change your partner.
2. If things aren’t going well, continue to live together but stay as separate as you can.
3. The kids come first.
4. Don’t go to bed angry.
5. If you need couples therapy, the relationship is really broken.
6. If you find the right person, you’ll be happy.
7. Marry rich.

1.You can change your partner.

There ARE plenty of people who need changing, however, try as we might, we cannot change someone else in a relationship. We can ask, persist, pressure, bribe, manipulate but unless the person wants to change, we can do little to make that happen. Plus, we’ll be making ourselves miserable by focusing on the trait(s) in our spouse that we don’t like.

2. If things aren’t going well, continue to live together but stay as separate as you can.

This is called living parallel lives. Couples may share a house, children or a business but have little to no loving interaction or meaningful conversations. There’s a missed opportunity here because problems are an invitation for our own growth. If we avoid things which are challenging (like resolving issues), we eliminate the chance to work through an issue and mature as a person.

3. The kids come first.

This sounds like the right and most giving thing to do as a parent. But it’s misguided for at least two reasons: 1) If we’re not taking care of our own needs (self-care, relaxation, sleep, diet, spiritual/religious practice, moving our bodies, using our intelligence or talents), we aren’t our optimal selves. Consequently, we’re not the best parent we can be because we may be tired, sad, in poor health, despondent et cetera. Similar to instructions we’re given on a flight: we must put the oxygen mask on ourselves before helping others. 2) If we don’t put time and energy into the marriage, it will wane and even become strained or distant. Our children are watching our every move and they conclude that’s how adults behave and how married partners interact (or don’t interact). Be a model of parents who take care of themselves, enjoy each other’s company, laugh, love and resolve conflicts in a healthy way in the marriage.

4. Don’t go to bed angry.

Sometimes we need to take space when emotions are running high. Why? Because when our limbic system is flooded with difficult emotions, our pre-frontal cortex (the advanced part of the brain which controls reasoning and logic and decision-making skills) isn’t operating fully. The research of The Gottman Institute shows people need at least 20 minutes of downtime/separation from the triggering event to alleviate strong emotions. This time also allows the body’s physical responses to return to normal functioning. But before taking space, use a ‘Gentle Exit’, a statement that you’re leaving for a set time AND that you care. Something such as “I know resolving this means a lot to you. First, I need to calm down so I’m going to shower/sleep and I can talk about it in the morning.”

5. If you need couples therapy, the relationship is really broken.

We DO need counselors, coaches, supervisors and mentors to learn from and take feedback from. In most other areas of life, this is standard: work, sports, learning a hobby or skill, mastering an instrument. Why not for intimate relationships? Most of us have learned from watching how our parents related to each other (the good and the bad) and we unconsciously emulate that. Why not fix what’s not working with the help of an expert? Couples therapy is, in part, to learn skills. One of my favorite populations to work with is young unmarried couples. As a therapist, I say to them “You’re wise to come in now to iron out the little issues before they become decades-long, entrenched problems.”

6. If you find the right person, you’ll be happy.

It’s a normal part of the human experience to feel ALL the feels from time to time. At times we will be joyful, sad, scared, lonely, dejected, angry et cetera throughout our whole lives. Don’t put pressure on one person to insulate you from feeling any painful emotions going forward. It’s too much to ask and unrealistic. There will be BOTH happy times and painful times as part of intimate relationships.

7. Marry rich.

This one came from my own (well-meaning) mother. It’s true that if one’s basic needs (housing, food, healthcare) aren’t met adequately, money is extremely important. But after that’s all met, couples of all socioeconomic strata have problems. In marriage, especially, the key is to find a partner who is willing to face conflicts and challenges in a healthy way. Marriage counseling allows both partners to work together either to find a solution or to come to peace with what life has presented.

If this misguided advice is negatively affecting your relationship, contact us to come in to discuss how you can do things differently. Reach out to get help by calling us at 908-246-3074 or emailing getsupport@couplestherapycenterofnj.com to schedule an individual or couples appointment.

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Relationship Essentials

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