11 Old Wives’ Tales About How To Make Your Partner Happy That Aren’t Actually True
When it comes to being in a relationship, there is a lot of advice out there on how to make your partner happy — such as "absence makes the heart grow fonder" and "never go to bed angry" — and these pearls of wisdom have become such a part of our lives that we might not even question if they're true or helpful. We've heard them a million times, and they've been woven into the fabric of how we view relationships, but do these pieces of advice stand the test of the time?
For many of them, the answer is a resounding "no." Many old-fashioned words of advice are super outdated, and even a little bit sexist. And others just don't make sense psychologically. As therapist Kimberly Hershenson, LMSW tells Bustle, "Relationship advice always changes with the times. Society's beliefs about what is 'normal' evolves, especially as gender stereotypes continue to change." And that's why — while some of the advice, at its core, may be true — most old wives' tales about relationships don't carry over well to today.
"From relationships where both partners are equal wage earners, to same-sex relationships, to relationships where there has been a prior divorce, to social roles of men and women in relationships and the workplace — all of these have changed over time," clinical psychologist Dr. Josh Klapow, host of The Web radio show, tells Bustle. "As they change, what it takes to be happy in a relationship can also change." With that in mind, here are a few pieces of old-fashioned relationship advice experts say we need to tweak, or even ditch altogether, because they're no longer true today.
1. "Always Keep What's Private, Private"
There's an old saying that, in order to keep things happy and healthy with your partner, you shouldn't talk about the inner goings on of your relationship with friends, family, etc. But in reality, "there's nothing wrong with relying on outside opinions to help you gain perspective," licensed marriage and family therapist, Racine R. Henry, PhD, tells Bustle. "Therapy, support groups, or a willing ear can be what helps maintain your relationship."
Of course, you should respect each other's privacy. But it doesn't do much good to keep everything a secret — especially if you're having relationship problems. As Henry says, "Having someone else who isn't invested in your relationship weigh in will introduce a new vantage point, which can be the ultimate difference maker. Be clear about how much you're willing to share, choose someone you can absolutely trust, and know that ultimately you are the only one who will have to live with whatever you decide."
2. "Never Go To Bed Angry"
People used to think that going to bed angry was the worst thing you could do for your relationship. But that simply isn't true. "As anyone who has been in a fight until three in the morning knows, when you are really angry, there is no way you can work productively to solve a problem," Raffi Bilek, LCSW-C, director of the Baltimore Therapy Center, tells Bustle. And being tired probably doesn't help either.
When you're super angry, sometimes sleeping on it is the best thing you can do. "Both parties have to be able to come down," Bilek says. "If that means going to bed with an unresolved argument and dealing with it the next day, so be it. That is a much better option than trying to fight it out into the wee hours of the morning."
3. "You Should Be Best Friends"
If you happen to be best friends with your partner, that's great. But it's definitely not a requirement for a happy relationship. Not to mention, in some ways, it might even be unhealthy.
When you think about best friends, you think about someone who knows everything about you, is your shoulder to cry on, and your sole confidant. But "sometimes relying on your partner to be the keeper of all your secrets and to always be the listening ear adds a strain and pressure that can become resentment," Henry says. So if your partner can't be everything — partner, best friend, and confidant — that's more than OK. And that's what your other friends are for.
4. "Keep Your Complaints To Yourself"
This saying — which is so 1950s it hurts — implies that partners shouldn't burden their significant other with worries and complaints, talk about anything "real," or prattle on about their day. And while that may have been acceptable relationship advice 60 years ago, there is absolutely no need to keep your "complaints" to yourself in order to keep your partner happy today.
As Hershenson says, "Everyone has stress and things in their life that bother them. Your partner should be a person you feel comfortable talking to about your issues." So, while you may not want to vent 24/7 or complain to each other the moment you both get home, you should feel comfortable enough to open up and share.
5. "It's Your Job To Make Your Partner Feel Good"
This old piece of advice implies that it's your job to make your partner happy. But really, "you are not responsible for anyone's emotions beside your own," Hershenson says. "You cannot control how your partner feels and it will get exhausting trying."
Yes, you should support them. And yes, you should do your best to be a good partner. But if they aren't happy, it'll be up to them to make an effort to help themselves, too.
6. "For You To Be Happy, They Need To Be Happy"
Similarly, there used to be an idea that in order to have harmony in a relationship, you should abide by the "happy wife, happy life" policy. But we can easily see today that that's completely ludicrous.
"The happiest couples are the ones where both people's needs are getting met," Chicago-area couples therapist Theresa Herring, LMFT, tells Bustle. "One person in the couple isn't more fragile or more important than the other. In today's word, if you're partners, you're equals."
7. "Absence Makes The Heart Grow Fonder"
It's true that the happiest of couples are the ones who feel comfortable spending time away from each other — even if it's just for a few hours. This space gives them room to grow and maintain their individuality, so that their relationship can be stronger as a result.
That said, the whole "absence makes the heart grow fonder" saying shouldn't be used too liberally, if you can help it. "While it's good to have separate jobs, interests, and friends, it isn't that spending lots of time away from each other will mean you will grow closer," dating expert Stef Safran, of Stef and the City, tells Bustle. "It's important to make time for your partner on a regular basis." Going on dates, eating dinner together, and simply hanging out in bed before you fall asleep are moments that are just as important as those hours spent away.
8. "Stand By Them No Matter What"
Back in the day, people used to tell couples that they should stick by their partner or spouse no matter what. And to a degree, that may be a good idea. But, as certified counselor Jonathan Bennett tells Bustle, "you’re under no obligation to constantly stand by your partner at all times. If your partner is behaving poorly or abusively, sometimes separating is the best and safest course of action."
And, if you don't agree with what your partner is saying or doing, it's perfectly fine to say so. In the past, partners may have sat idly by, or rolled their eyes. But it's 2018, and standing up for yourself is much healthier — even if it doesn't jive with what your partner thinks.
9. "You Should Always Agree"
Another 1950s classic. "This advice, sometimes found in the form of 'yes dear' or '[your spouse] is always right' is actually terrible advice," Bennett says. "To ask a [person] to give up any form of assertiveness is unfair. Not only that, but confidence and independence are very [admirable]." It's much more important to say what you're thinking, instead of keeping quiet for the sake of "agreeing to disagree," especially if agreeing is compromising your own happiness or well-being.
10. "Don't Bore Your Partner"
Again, having separate and different interests is actually a good thing, despite what many old sayings would have you think. So go ahead and enjoy your own hobbies and interests separately, and then come back afterward and share all about it.
And don't be afraid to "bore" your partner, either — which Hershenson says was a major no no back in the day. "If you have different interests than your partner it's important you can share about these interests with your partner," she says. They should be willing to listen to you and support you, even if it's not their thing.
11. "Try To Impress Them To Keep Them"
Oh, the list of things people used to have to do in order to keep their partner's "interested," such as keeping themselves and their homes looking a certain way, was so long and so problematic. As professional counselor Heidi McBain, MA, LMFT, LPC, RPT tells Bustle, "Everyone needed to look good and act perfectly as well." But clearly, this advice is no longer helpful today because being who you are should be the reason your partner stays "interested."
"I think people are much more real now," she says. "We show our emotions more. We know that even if someone looks nice on the surface, there is probably a lot more going on below the surface. We talk to each other about deep issues." And more importantly, we are embracing more as a society that looking or not looking a certain way isn't what defines your worthiness, no matter what the situation is.
It just goes to show that times change, and advice and beliefs about relationships need to change, too. So take some old advice to heart, but don't be afraid to tweak it for the better, and have a happier relationship as a result.