Demystifying Relationship Advices
Published on 1st May, 2017 by Muhammad Haikal Bin Jamil
Relationship advice - we have all given some, and we have all received plenty. Some of these advices floating around can be real gems, provided they are understood and applied effectively. Others, though well-meaning, may bring about unintended consequences. In this article, I would like to discuss some of the most common relationship advices that we have all heard. Remember, even the best advice, when applied wrongly, lowers the quality of your relationship with your partner.
Advice 1: Communicate with each other
What it means (when applied effectively): Communicate with your partner, but not with the purpose of changing him/her
Communicating with each other is a common advice for relationships to work, and it is aptly so. Poor communication is likely the top reason why relationships fail. In sharing your life with your partner, communication is a key part in developing the social, emotional, intellectual and physical connections with each other. Good communication skills serve various purposes including offering emotional support, providing encouragement, discussing future plans, and to better understand your partner’s thoughts.
Problems arise when one (or both) communicates so as to change his or her partner. Think about this: “Whose behavior can you control?” Of course, the answer is “yourself”. Trying to change your partner to behave in the manner that you want him to is harmful to your relationship (Glasser, 2010). Instead of communicating, you are likely to spend a lot of time arguing and criticizing your partner as a result of trying to change him.
To improve the quality of communication with your partner, use “I” statements to express your thoughts or concerns. For example, saying “I miss you” when your partner has been busy with work in recent weeks later will do more for your relationship than if you were to say “You have been neglecting me”. Your partner will also be less defensive, and will be more willing to understand your perspective when you communicate. It also pays to listen and try to understand what your partner says to you.
Advice 2: Say sorry and forgive
What it means (when applied effectively): Learn to forgive and facilitate forgiveness
Forgiveness is a big challenge for most individuals. In my experience working with couples, difficulty to forgive when a partner has committed a major mistake is a common underlying reason for couples seeking therapy. Even though the partner may have apologized profusely, the other would state that “I would like to forgive him, but the damage is done and it is impossible for me to forget what he has done when I look at him”.
Allow me to clarify the concept of forgiveness. Most of us understand forgiveness from a religious perspective. From the religious viewpoint, forgiveness takes an all-or-none approach. When forgiven by a higher power, one's sins are wiped clean, as if it did not occur. When understood this way, forgiving someone is a challenge as it is not possible to the partner who has been hurt to forget the mistake(s) of his partner.
In the human-to-human process, forgiveness does not imply “letting a person hook the hook and forgetting that it has happened”. Instead, it can be defined as the act of releasing the desire to punish someone or yourself from a behavior for an offense (Worthington, 2006). In forgiving, you are taking back the power from an event which has occurred in the past. For example, when Bob forgives his wife for lying to him, he is making a choice to prevent the lies from continuing to hurt him, and for him to be able to look forward to spending happy times with his wife again. The memories of the lies may still return from time to time, but it no longer holds a power on Bob.
Advice 3: Compromise is key
What it means (when applied effectively): Find a healthy balance in compromising, and listen to each other to coming up with a win-win solution
Compromise is an unavoidable part of relationships. From time to time, sacrifices are required. How can a couple compromise in a balanced and positive manner? Firstly, both individuals need to give in from time to time. A one-sided relationship where only one gives in and doesn’t get much in return only brews resentment and anger. Secondly, if possible, seek for a “win-win” solution where his-way and his-way meets to generate our-way (Heitler, 2003).
For example, Nicole and David are planning for a vacation. Nicole would like to go to a shopping paradise, which enables her to engage in retail therapy after a couple of stressful months at work while David’s dream vacation involves adrenalin-packed adventures, such as caving and bungee jumping. A compromise could have translated into a destination which enables Nicole to go shopping at a mall while David goes snorkeling at the waters nearby. However, this wouldn’t have been the raw deal for both Nicole and David.
Compromise is best achieved when both partners share their underlying concerns, and both work together to come up with a win-win situation. David may have wanted the holiday to meet his adventure fix while Nicole wanted to shop to take her mind off work after completing a major project. The couple may decide to go to a beach location where David can go shark diving while Nicole gets to enjoy the white sandy beach to relax, providing her with the down time she needs. Alternatively, David may acknowledge that Nicole’s need for down time is higher, and gives in to Nicole this time round while David gets to plan for the next holiday. Either way, both voices are heard and a solution is reached to best suit them.
Advice 4: Don’t go to bed angry
What it means (when applied effectively): Do not let the argument last longer and affect your relationship more than it should
You may have heard of this advice many times, usually at weddings or when couples share their secret to staying together. However, this advice possesses some shortcomings.
This advice imposes time limits to the resolution of a disagreement. Bigger problems typically require a longer time to resolve. I have heard of cases where the argument became bigger because an issue has been brought up close to bedtime, and a partner is too tired to continue discussing. Of course, it is ideal if you can resolve the problem with your partner before going to bed. However, failure to do so does not indicate an insurmountable issue or a failed relationship.
This advice can be traced to our belief that anger is bad. Most of us have been brought up with the idea that being angry is bad. I’d like to clarify that there is nothing wrong to be angry when there is a reason to. The problem with anger is in how we behave when we are angry. Examples of negative behaviours towards partners as a result of anger include physical and verbal aggression, bringing up the past and ignoring your partner’s attempt to talk to you.
So what can you do when you are angry with your partner the next time? That is where advices 1, 2 and 3 come in handy. Furthermore, applying this advice effectively also increases the chances that you and your partner are able resolve the issue by bedtime.
Advice 5: Things will be better when you have found The One.
What it means: A successful relationship shouldn’t require hard work. Either your partner doesn’t suit you, or it’s your partner’s fault that something went wrong.
This advice does not serve you or your relationship in a positive way. When something goes wrong in the relationship, having someone else saying that the other person is the problem may help you feel comforted. However, it prevents you from growing wiser and your relationship from growing by playing the blame game.
Instead, take responsibility for what happened. Relationships are hard work. No matter how perfect or imperfect you partner is, both of you play a part in making things work.
Instead of wondering how your partner could have been a better partner or should have done something differently, consider what you could do differently. Consider starting with “In future, I can…” or “Next time, I think I will…” when thinking about the issues that you face
Advice 6: “What works for me is….”
What it means (when applied effectively): That’s what works for that personbut it may not work for you, as no two couples are alike.
There is nothing wrong with getting advice from other people. However, you know your partner and your relationship best. Well-meaning people may provide useful tips, but these advices should not be taken as the absolute truth. Trying something which seemingly works for another couple, but failing to replicate the results for yours may only place more strain on the relationship.
Have conversations with your partner on what’s working (or not) in the relationship, and how the both of you can take the relationship to the next step. You can consider the inputs from your friends and family in the discussion, but it is not imperative that they are utilized.
Glasser, W. (2010). Choice theory: A new psychology of personal freedom. Harper Collins.
Heitler, S. M., & Hirsch, A. (2003). The Power of Two Workbook: Communication Skills for a Strong & Loving Marriage. New Harbinger Publications.
Worthington Jr, E. L. (2006). Forgiveness and reconciliation: Theory and application. Routledge.