You're probably pretty familiar with sayings like "Don't go to bed angry" or "Follow your heart," but just because these pieces of advice are popular doesn't mean that you should follow them. In fact, some common relationship rules are actually toxic. Even good things in a relationship, like spending time together, talking, or compromising, can be toxic if you follow strict relationship "rules" instead of taking a more balanced approach, according to experts.
"Even though couples who are joined at the hip are often seen as relationship goals, romantic, and head-over-heels in love, clinging is actually an unhealthy sign in relationships," Christine Scott-Hudson, MA, MFT, ATR, a licensed psychotherapist, marriage and family therapist, and owner of Create Your Life Studio, tells Bustle. "If you have developed the habit of depending upon your partner before you can go anywhere on your own, or make even the smallest of decisions, you may have an unhealthy attachment pattern known as enmeshment." It's important to maintain your sense of individuality, privacy, and agency, even within a committed, long-term relationship. If you and your partner have been following some popular relationship advice but it hasn't been working for you, don't be afraid to toss it aside. You have to do what's right for you and your partner, not what you've been told that you "should" be doing.
Here are some common relationship rules that can actually be toxic, according to experts.
1. Keep Your Baggage To Yourself
When you started your current relationship, friends might have cautioned you to put off revealing any emotional baggage that you might be carrying from previous partners. But keeping important information about past relationships — especially if it's still affecting you now — is not a healthy strategy. "If you’re in a relationship and still talking to your ex, own it," professional matchmaker Ashley Bakewell with It’s Just Lunch Cleveland, tells Bustle. "Be open and upfront with your partner about the relationship you have, whether it’s occasionally running into your ex while out and about or texting every once in a while." Being as transparent as possible is crucial because hiding your feelings will only break the bonds of trust with your partner and create jealousy, she says.
2. Always Compromise
“Compromising is key in any relationship," Bakewell says. But accepting "always compromise" as a hard and fast rule can actually create problems, rather than solve them. "When you’re compromising without an explanation, it can be toxic," she says. "Feelings are important, and expressing them in a relationship is crucial.” You might think that you "should" just let your partner make decisions or change your plans without blinking an eye, but if what they're doing is truly bothering you, it's important to voice your feelings so that you don't start to resent them. When something really matters to you, you shouldn't feel like you have to compromise, even if it is for a partner you love.
3. Communicate All The Time
If you've ever gotten relationship advice from an older couple, they've probably emphasized how important it is to always be communicating with your partner. "Sure, texting ‘I love you’ or ‘thinking about you’ keeps the romance alive," Bakewell says. But texting throughout your day can be an ineffective form of communication. Instead, it can be much healthier to give each other some space until you see each other in person or have time for a quick phone call, she says. That makes your time together feel more special, and prevents any unfortunate misunderstandings from taking place, since tone is often hard to interpret over text.
4. Wait For Them To Change
In the beginning of a relationship, it's easy to overlook your partner's little imperfections. Maybe they always leave their dirty clothes on the floor or they put empty food boxes back in the cupboard. But following the "be patient and they'll change" rule is not a healthy mindset to have. “I’ve heard it a million times: ‘Oh they’ll change,’" Bakewell says. The thing is, they probably won't. "Compromising is one thing, but banking on the other person to change is another," she says. "When you first begin dating, bond over what you have in common and embrace the individual for who they are.”
5. Don't Expect Privacy
It's pretty common for people to expect that having too much privacy is a bad thing. After all, if you let your partner keep things from you, they might have something to hide, right? In actuality, privacy is an important part of a relationship, even between long-term partners who love each other deeply. "Looking through each other’s phones as soon as the opportunity presents itself is not a good habit," Alessandro Mannino, a relationship expert and communications director with PeopleLooker.com, tells Bustle. "Without trust, a relationship can never grow." If your partner is uncomfortable with telling you a story about their childhood or wants to spend time with their friends without you present, be sure to give them their space.
6. Don't Go To Bed Angry
"Don't go to bed angry" is one of the most frequently-quoted pieces of relationship advice you've probably heard. While it might sound like a great rule to live by, it's not necessarily great in practice.
"Sometimes we need to take a break from arguing, and that's OK," Jessica Glenn, LCSW-S, a licensed clinical social worker in private practice who specializes in repairing relationships, tells Bustle. "When tensions are running high we can become 'flooded,' meaning our emotions can be out of control and clouding our judgment and communication," she says. "When we become flooded it can be healthy to take a break from the argument." Just make sure that you do return to the conversation once you and your partner have had time to calm down so that the issue isn't left unresolved.
7. Follow Your Heart
When it comes to love, you should just listen to what your heart tells you to do, right? Maybe not. "Sometimes our heart can lead us to people who are bad for us, especially if we have wounds from childhood that have not been worked through," Glenn says. While it's important to listen to what your gut is telling you and what you feel about a situation with your partner, focusing solely on that can make you overlook important information that your partner is giving you about who they truly are, she says. If you're struggling with a decision about your relationship, listen to yourself, but it can also be helpful to loop in some trusted people in your life. They can help you see the situation clearly.
Relationship rules can be helpful guidelines for you and your partner. But if they are causing problems, don't be afraid to switch things up.