5 Relationship Mantras That Are Actually Baloney

They’ve been sung in power ballads, needlepointed onto pillows, and possibly even recited at your wedding. That doesn’t make them true.


Don’t Go to Bed Angry.

Photo by Credit: Daniel Ingold

Going to sleep is a good circuit breaker. Real relationships are an endlessly repeated rhythm of harmony, disharmony, and repair. But our culture idealizes only the harmony phase. Just once I would like somebody to say, “Oh, there’s Harvey and Shirley. They’ve been married 47 years. Of course they separated at one point for nearly a year because they were so pissed off at each other, and periodically they fight like cats and dogs, but they always find their way through it. Aren’t they a cute couple?” But you’re not going to hear that. Saying that you should never go to bed mad suggests that there should never be a serious disharmony in the relationship—which is nonsense. Sleeping stops the automatic reaction and gives you a chance to regain perspective. My wife and I go to bed mad at each other, wake up the next morning, and make up immediately. The resolution? Going to bed is the resolution sometimes. Because the relational answer to the question “Who’s right, and who’s wrong?” is “Who cares?” The question should be “How are we going to get through this together?”

—Terry Real, founder of the Relational Life Institute and the author of The New Rules of Marriage. He lives in Newton, Massachusetts.


Always Put Your Partner First.

I think it’s a lot like the air mask on the plane, where you have to take care of yourself before you can take care of anyone else—otherwise you end up doing both halfway. I’ve been married to my wife for two years now, and for me that meant prioritizing my health so that I could then be present in my relationship. I struggled with my weight my whole life, and I worked to figure out the exercise and way to eat that made me feel really good. I started cooking at home more, which at first I did for me, but steps like this allowed me to take care of us as a family. This mantra is cheesy, but it’s true: You have to love yourself before you can really love.

—Julia Turshen, cookbook author whose latest work, Small Victories, is coming out later this year. She lives in Ulster County, New York.


Love Conquers All.

People think love will help you surpass any obstacle, but it doesn’t. Relationships are hard work. Parenting is sometimes stressful. Add in the difficulties of jobs. You may start out thinking that your love can conquer all, but you have to work at it, and both people have to want to work together. You can come very close to saying farewell. You have to have a lot of fortitude and goodwill toward yourself and your partner. But a good marriage is worth working for and going through lots of different stages for. A lot of relationship advice is hooey, but one thing every new bride and groom should do is learn to listen to their partners.

—Diane Rehm, host on WAMU/NPR and the author of On My Own, a new memoir about her more than 50-year marriage and the loss of her husband. She lives in Washington, D.C.


What’s Adorable Now Will Be Annoying Later.

We’re all a little crazy. The key is to find someone whose particular brand of crazy doesn’t drive you crazy—because as we get older, we definitely don’t get less nuts. (Just look at your parents.) My husband watches four different sporting events on three different devices while messaging with friends on four different continents. All this multitasking yet he can’t get the baby’s bottle. Thankfully, I think it’s adorable, and I’m glad that he’s such a loyal friend. When we embrace each other’s crazy, we can be who we really are, and our love has an infinite space in which to expand.

—Dana Fox, writer and a producer of the movie How to Be Single. She lives in Los Angeles.


Everyone Needs Boundaries.

In our culture, we focus so much on the individual. We imagine that there are walls between people, and if yours aren’t strong enough, then your partner will roll over you. Boundaries often come up around conflict—as if someone moving you beyond your comfort zone means that person is somehow wrong. That’s when people get defensive. It’s better to focus on the permeability of your boundaries. The space between two people is where most of the work and reward of the relationship exists. You have to realize that neither of you may be fully right or wrong. The issue is finding a compromise.

—Amy Banks, M.D., psychiatrist at the Jean Baker Miller Training Institute and the author of Four Ways to Click: Rewire Your Brain for Stronger, More Rewarding Relationships. She lives in Lexington, Massachusetts.