There is plenty of dumb advice that floats around for couples who are struggling. Maybe it’s your Dr. Phil’s of the world or other self-help type guru’s. Or you might notice that every single one of your friends or family members has an opinion about the solution to your problems. The tricky thing about cliché advice is that there is often a kernel of truth in it. So here are few common ones that I have heard, and the valuable parts hiding in the noise.
Focus on Making “I” Statements
This one is a good one. I think that most people have heard this one before. This one is good advice on its face value. But the problem is that it is not as easy to implement as people make it seem. So the original statement might sound like “You always talk down to me.” The “I” statement that does not help might sound like “I feel like you’re talking down to me.” Just making it an “I” statement did not really change anything.
The nugget of truth in this one has to do with shifting from blaming to talking about your emotions. Blame keeps us stuck in the same cycle that we always stay in. Instead you would want to focus on sharing what you are feeling and taking responsibility for your actions.
This one is just dangerous. As a matter of fact, my experience tells me that love means apologizing repeatedly. We are all imperfect people. By the nature of that, we all make mistakes and behave poorly at times. Being in a loving, committed relationship means having to take responsibility for our actions when we do act out of our hurts or stress.
The truth of this one really has to do with being understanding of our partner. The real advice in here is that we give grace and forgiveness to our partner when they are hurting. It is important to be attentive to our partner’s pain and connect over the ways that the pain is triggered. It is important to focus on being the kind of person that it is okay to apologize to. Love means that we can say we are sorry without the fear that admitting our faults will be held over our head.
You Need to Be Accepted as You Are
This is another example of good advice gone sideways. Another version of this is “If you can’t love me at my worst, you don’t deserve me at my best.” This one too quickly turns into an excuse for bad behavior. It’s just who I am after all. Somewhere along the lines we got the message that our flaws should be accepted at face value without expectation that they would change.
The good news is that people do change and grow. You are not the same as you were five years ago. I think that the beauty of long-term relationships is that we get to go through these changes with a partner that loves us. If we never changed relationships would be tedious and boring the longer we stay in them. Instead, it is important to love and accept each other as you are today, not for who our partner was when we first met. This version of acceptance means that there is no limit to how close we can grow or the ways we can continue to grow to know each other.
Like any old timey prospector will tell you, you have to sift through some mud in order to find gold. Cliché’s have some gold in them if we are willing to sort through the mess to find it. If you are having trouble finding direction out of the cycle you and your partner are stuck in, give The Marriage & Family Clinic a call.
About the Author
Ryan Hicks is a licensed therapist and marriage counselor at The Marriage and Family Clinic in Denver, Colorado. He specializes in working with couples in high conflict and working with couples in the LGBTQ community. When he’s not working with couples, you’ll find him rock climbing or taking in the great outdoors of Colorado.