When it comes to dating, marriage, and relationship advice, a lot of it is….terrible. There are things people say simply because they’ve heard other people say it. This is because of a certain cognitive bias. The more people hear a thing repeated, the more likely they are to assume it’s true – even if it’s false.
Let me give you some examples of bad relationship advice I’ve heard and continue to hear for some reason.
Love means never having to say you’re sorry.
This bit of relational garbage was introduced to the masses in the 1970 movie Love Story. I don’t know who thought up this line, but they know nothing about love. I love my wife deeply. I also find myself saying “I’m sorry” multiple times every day. We all say and do things, intentionally or not, that hurt or upset the people we love. It happens. Say you’re sorry and mean it. The key is to try to do better. If you say you’re sorry for missing your son’s ballgame due to working late, then try not to let it happen again. Eventually sorry may not be good enough. But true love is about admitting when you are wrong and attempting to make a change for the sake of the other person’s well-being.
Never go to bed angry.
This is loosely based on the passage in Ephesians 4 that instructs us to “not let the sun go down on your anger.” There are times when a conflict needs to be resolved, not ignored. There will be times when you need to have those long, hard conversations late into the night. But those times are fewer and father between than you may think. There have been many times when I’ve gone to bed angry and woke up feeling remorseful and foolish. Sometimes “sleeping on it” can help both parties realize how ridiculous the fight really was. So use wisdom to know what fights are worth staying up for and which ones can be more or less resolved with some shut-eye. But I typically avoid words like “never” when it comes to relationships.
If it’s meant to be, it will happen.
I think we’ve all been tainted by the fairytales and RomComs. Those relationships always work out. You know from the start that the two main characters are going to end up together and live “happily ever after.” But guess what: life doesn’t work that way. Relationships take work, time, effort, and resources. Relationships take sacrifice. If it’s meant to be, then go work at it! Don’t just expect the other person to magically come around to the idea of dating you – go ask them. Don’t just expect that once the wedding is done that the work is over – it’s just beginning. Don’t ever expect a great relationship to just happen because it’s “meant to be.”
Find someone who “completes” you.
Another infamous movie line is the source of this terrible advice. “You complete me” is a nice sentiment, but it leads to dysfunctional relationships. You should be a fully complete person before entering a relationship with someone. Otherwise you are relying too heavily on that person’s presence and investment in the relationship. You are giving them too much power. What happens when they’re not around? What happens should they leave you? or die? We should be more concerned with being complete in Christ and in who God made us to be than we are about feeling complete in a relationship with another person.
Communication is the key to a healthy marriage.
We all communicate to everyone around us all the time. Not talking to your spouse is a form of communication. The majority of our communication is nonverbal, anyway. We may say one thing, but our face and posture are saying the opposite. Communication is not the key to a healthy marriage – healthy communication is one of the keys to a healthy marriage. You should learn to argue well. You should learn to communicate a clear message with both your words and your body language. But even if those things aren’t so great, you can still have a really good marriage. Because marriage is a journey, not a destination. You and your spouse should be growing in many areas, including communication.
Are there any other myths to bust? Of course! Much of the above was just my opinion or what I’ve heard experts talk about over the years. But there are still plenty of myths out there that we need to put to the test.
Myth #1: A GUY AND A GIRL CAN JUST BE FRIENDS.
What do you think? Is it possible?
According to the experts:
“The belief that men and women can’t be friends comes from another era in which women were at home and men were in the workplace, and the only way they could get together was for romance.” – Linda Sapadin, a psychologist in Valley Stream, New York
>> Psychology Today: Can Men and Women Be Friends? <<
Not only is it possible, it’s really healthy to have friends of the opposite gender. This is all dependent on context, of course. There is a very real possibility that a friendship can blossom into something more, which can be problematic if one or both of the friends also has a significant other.
On the other hand, if a guy and a girl are both single and their friendship evolves into a romantic relationship, then that can be really great! The best relationships often begin as close friendships. That’s a good starting point.
But can they remain just friends, or are they doomed to end up hurting each other and losing the friendship? Again, it kind of depends. Mostly it depends on expectations and how certain signals are interpreted (or rather misinterpreted). Guys are worse at this than girls are. If a girl has a guy friend that she treats mostly the same as her other girl friends – chatting all the time, hugging, confiding in, seeking advice or reassurance – then the guy is very likely to misread those things as cues that she is into him.
So girls – if you want to have and keep a guy as a close friend, don’t be afraid to have that awkward conversation. Make it clear that you value his friendship and that you aren’t trying to lead him on in any way. It might upset him, but your relationship will be better off in the long run if romance is completely off the table. If he’s a good friend, he will understand and respect that.
And guys – STOP MISINTERPRETING KINDNESS AND FRIENDLINESS FOR FLIRTING! A lot of girls are afraid to even be nice to guys because they don’t want to lead them on. That’s on you. Stop it. Just because a girl is friendly with you doesn’t mean she fantasizes about making out with you. It means she’s nice. Value that. Don’t take it for granted. Don’t ruin it.
Paul tells his young protege Timothy, “Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity” (1 Timothy 5:1-2).
It is possible for guys and girls to be friends. If you are Christians, then treat each other as bother and sisters in Christ – with all purity. But be aware of the tendencies of the human heart (or the male brain) in desiring more than just friendship.
Myth #2: THERE’S ONLY ONE PERSON IN THE WORLD FOR YOU – YOUR “SOULMATE.”
We all fantasize about that certain…special…someone. That one person who will sweep us off our feet. That one person with whom we have instant chemistry. That one person with whom we are “meant to be.”
But that’s all fairytale. The fact of the matter is that there is no *one* person for any of us. We have our choice. We can choose to love or not to love. And this idea of “the one” puts a TON of unneeded pressure on young people who want to get married.
What do the experts say?
“Nothing in our DNA, immune systems, religious beliefs, or personal ideologies acts as a linking mechanism to connect us, perfectly, with one other person. But this concept is sold to us, day in and day out, and buying into this myth makes all of our lives much more difficult (and discouraging).” – Agustín Fuentes Ph.D.
>> Psychology Today: Desperately Seeking Soulmate? Please Stop Already <<
Instead of a checklist of all the “must haves” in a potential spouse, how about you focus on being the best you that you can be? Stop “desperately seeking a soulmate.” Stop worrying about finding “the one.” Start being somebody else’s one. In other words, be the kind of person you want for your future spouse.
He who finds a wife finds what is good
and receives favor from the Lord. (Proverbs 18:22)
Listen, finding a good spouse is a blessing from God. So maybe put more of your trust in God to take care of you. He may just bring a potential spouse your way.
Myth #3: OPPOSITES ATTRACT.
We probably all know those couples that don’t make any sense. He’s an accountant, she’s an art teacher and yoga instructor. He’s a surfer, she’s a doctor. He’s a sports-fanatic, she’s a book worm.
I’m always amazed when I see opposites attracting like that. They make it work somehow. But that is not always the case. Those types of relationships rarely work out in the long term.
According to the experts:
“Despite the common belief that opposites attract, the data prove otherwise and show that married couples tend to be similar to each other on a variety of traits.” – Jennifer Verdolin Ph.D.
>> Psychology Today: Do Opposites Really Attract? <<
Now, the research does concede that correlation does not equal causation. We don’t know if couples get married because they are similar to each other or if couples become more alike over the course of their relationship. It’s likely some of both.
And while opposites don’t always last in a relationship, that doesn’t mean you should try to find someone just like you. Therapist and author Hal Runkel suggests, “It’s not what you have in common, it’s what you have inside that matters.” He further points out that, “oneness does not mean sameness.”
In most relationships, one of you will be the spender and one will be the saver. One likely be more concerned about housework than the other. It’s okay not to have the same hobbies and interests as each other. That is what makes relationships so interesting – there is always something new to learn about your partner. You can be different, but you can still be one.
The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”
The man said,
“This is now bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh…” (Genesis 2:18, 23)
“…overall divorce rates have been falling for a few decades. The truth is, the average couple getting married today has more like a 75 percent chance of staying married. That means that only about 1 in 4 recent marriages are likely to end in divorce.” – Renée Peltz Dennison Ph.D.
>> Psychology Today: Do Half of All Marriages Really End in Divorce? <<
The way the divorce rate is measured is misleading from the start. Divorce rates are calculated by comparing the number of overall marriages in a year to the overall number of divorces in a year. That’s it. And it turns out that at one point in time, there were about half as many divorces as marriages in the US. But that number has been dropping significantly over the last few decades.
Also, further studies show that the vast majority of first time marriages will not end in divorce. But the divorce rate among divorcees rises dramatically with each subsequent new marriage. Second and third marriages have a divorce rate close to 75%.
It’s absolutely heartbreaking to see friends and family go through divorces. The ones who suffer the most are definitely the children of those broken homes. And if you have experienced that, I am so sorry.
But the fact is, first time marriages today have a higher chance of fulfilling the “til death” vow than we’ve seen in decades.
“But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” (Mark 10:6-9)
“Except for that initial short-lived honeymoon effect for life satisfaction, getting married did not result in getting happier or more satisfied. In fact, for life satisfaction and relationship satisfaction, the trajectories over time headed in the less satisfied direction.” – Bella DePaulo Ph.D.
>> Psychology Today: Marriage and Happiness: 18 Long-Term Studies<<
If your life sucks, marriage won’t make it not suck. If you’re life is great, marriage won’t make it greater. Because you bring to the marriage all your extra baggage! Marriage won’t magically fix all your problems. If anything, marriage is going to shine a big spotlight on them. Do you have family problems? Financial problems? Mental health issues? Trust issues? Control issues? Do you squeeze the toothpaste wrong? Do you mount the toilet paper the wrong way round? All of these issues will only become more exacerbated in marriage.
But it’s not all bad news. The studies showed that married couples as no more satisfied over time than never-married singles. The researchers rated the happiness level of couples just before the wedding and at some time after the wedding. Happiness rates are typically highest right up to the wedding and during the honeymoon phase. Satisfaction levels drop down to more realistic levels over time, though.
But overall, marriage will not make you happier.
And secondly: God never said anything about wanting you to be happy. God doesn’t want you to be happy. He wants you to be faithful. Happiness, by its nature, is dependent on circumstances. The word “happiness” is closely tied to the word “happenstance.” There are times when relationships get rocky. You may go through seasons of unhappiness. You may be tempted to pursue happiness outside of your marriage. But don’t ever let your love and commitment become conditional on the outward circumstances.
“When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider this: God has made the one as well as the other. Therefore, no one can discover anything about their future.” (Ecclesiastes 7:14)
Myth #6: MARRIAGE SHOULD NOT BE THE ULTIMATE GOAL.
I get the feeling that we idolize marriage and families in the church a little too much. We have children’s ministry and youth ministry to draw in young families. We often have classes or small groups for “young couples.” We host marriage and parenting seminars. We may occasionally have a singles group, but that’s often viewed as a way to get our singles together into couples so they can get married and have babies for our children’s ministry.
What about those who are single for life? What about those who never felt called to marriage? Do they have a place in our society and our churches?
Singleness is nothing to be ashamed of!
“In their self-esteem and satisfaction with their lives, people who have always been single (and have never been in a civil partnership, either) are essentially identical to people who are currently married.” – Bella DePaulo Ph.D.
>> Psychology Today: Stereotypes of Singles? Robust. Actual Differences Between Singles and Couples? Not So Much <<
Singles have more freedom, more opportunities, more friends. I admit that I sometimes find myself a little jealous of my single friends. They can travel across the country and don’t have to worry about finding rest stops with play grounds. They can go out to eat at restaurants that don’t have coloring pages and kids menus. They can go to the movies almost any time and don’t have to pay a babysitter on top of it.
And when it comes to ministry, I have seen singles get a raw deal from churches even though they have a kind of freedom that married people with families just don’t have.
If you are under the illusion that marriage will somehow make you more fulfilled as a human…read the above myth. Also, remember someone else we know who was single?
Jesus had the most fulfilling human life ever. He had intimate friendships. He had a deep connection to God. He travelled from place to place healing, teaching, and restoring. He partied. He got to go fishing a lot. And yet…most churches wouldn’t hire Jesus as a minister because of his marital status.
Fulfillment can be found in many different ways. Marriage may be one of them. But it should not be the ultimate goal in your life. Serving God and seeking his will should be your ultimate goal. Marriage should not be elevated to the place of idolatry in our churches. Marriage should be seen as one of many ways in which to honor and glorify God. Along with singleness.
“I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife—and his interests are divided.” (1 Corinthians 7:32-34)
Pay closer attention to the relationship messages you are receiving. Whether it’s from music, movies, books, or a well-meaning aunt, don’t just blindly accept the “insights” from others. Weigh that advice against what Scripture says and against what the experts say.
And remember, not everyone can be a love expert. Not all advice is created equal. There are no “magic keys” to great relationships. And above all, seek God’s will.