There are better, smarter ways to love.
“We never go to bed angry,” my client said.
She was talking about settling fights with her partner. “We agree on that. We stay up and fight.”
“Sounds like you have a few late nights then,” I said. She and her partner were fighting all the time; she looked exhausted. “Where’d you get that advice?”
She looked at me like I should have chosen another career. “Everyone knows you shouldn’t go to bed angry. It’s just one of those things.”
But is it? Is it good advice or an outdated cliché?
Beware the Clichés of Love
Clichés are hackneyed phrases, so often used that they lose their meaning. But, although widely scorned, they can powerfully influence our behaviour, mainly because when you hear something that often it beds in.
Relationships are fertile ground for clichés: Think of all those nuggets of wisdom handed down through the generations, under the guise of guiding couples down the rocky road of love.
But such clichés need to be put under the psychological microscope and analysed to see if they’re relevant and helpful in 2021 — or not.
Let’s take a look at some of the most common.
8 Relationship Clichés You’d Be Wise to Ignore
1. Never go to bed angry.
My client was battling with this one, for good reason. Not all arguments can be quickly resolved (Relationship expert Dr John Gottman says many disputes are never resolved) and you will exhaust yourself trying to do so. Conflict can need time to breathe and space to settle. It can just be better to agree on a time to reopen the discussion and go get some sleep.
One more thing. Don’t have sex straight after a fight, because it won’t put the whole thing to bed. Not at all. It will reinforce the conflict and teach you to associate passion/sex with fighting. Which you definitely don’t want.
2. Opposites attract.
I’ve always thought this was a strange and deceptive piece of advice. People are attracted to each other. Period. And no two people are alike so “opposites attract” can be said of any relationship. When polar opposites get together it can often lead to fireworks. Or toxicity. Or misery. It can just be a very big mistake.
Far more often people who are alike — in morals, values, cultures, religions, interests and senses of humour — get together. And those things underpin many happy relationships.
3. We marry our parents.
On a literal level, this is wrong. Very wrong. We do not marry our parents because we can’t. But seriously. It’s true that in relationships we often drift towards the familiar — what we’ve known in childhood — but this is frequently about the environment we’ve grown up in and what we’ve come to know, and expect, as normal. For example, conflict, drug and alcohol abuse and chaos. We only know what we know — and what we’ve lived. And this can get in the way of making sound choices.
3. Once a cheater, always a cheater.
Look, players are players. If you get together with someone who historically and habitually rolls this way there’s a high chance you’ll be cheated on. So it’s your risk to take.
One of the mantras of psychology is that past behaviour predicts future. It often holds up in infidelity, but all sorts of people make mistakes. It’s important to distinguish a one-off event from a pattern of behaviour. If a person cheats once it does not 100% mean that they will do so again. (They may be less likely to do so when they know the heartbreak it causes). Here’s a piece of advice though: If you decide to stay with a person who has cheated on you and is truly remorseful, you’re going to need to work on forgiving and trusting them. Because a life of paranoia and suspicion is Hell.
5. Love means never having to say you’re sorry.
Ahem. I am seriously wondering about the person who originally made this one up. And feeling very sorry for the person who was in the relationship with them.
6. You can’t love someone until you love yourself.
You can, and I have seen the evidence, 1,000 times over. Many people can and do fully love their partners while feeling insecure about themselves. You don’t have to be in love with yourself to get into a healthy relationship. But trusting and feeling good about yourself does make everything a little easier. It means you can relax and enjoy being in a relationship.
7. There are plenty more fish in the sea.
This is usually said to people who’ve just broken up and are struggling emotionally. It’s supposed to be life-affirming, code for “you’re so great, you’ll soon find someone else.” But people with broken hearts don’t want weird advice about fish or oceans. They just want your empathy, maybe your company, and definitely some chocolate, while they work through the sh*t show that their love life has turned into.
8. Love conquers all.
When it’s good, love is the greatest thing in the world. But it can’t conquer all, nor should we expect it to. Love won’t go to work every day or do the dishes or remember to put the recycling bin out. We have to do that for ourselves while love takes a nap.
The reality is, some relationships are not built to last and, if yours falls apart, it doesn’t mean you’re a lesser person. Not at all. Being in a relationship is not the beginning and end of life. Being a loving person is.