I’m a big fan of cliches. Sure, they’re usually trite and almost always devoid of any real impact, but there’s usually some nugget of wisdom or truth hidden deep inside. I like to imagine the first time someone uttered one of these nuggets, a moment when some confusing idea suddenly became clear. There was some kind of power in that clarity. If there wasn't, the idea would have drifted away in the wind and we wouldn’t be uttering it years later.
Cliches are everywhere. I bet at your office, people are constantly thinking outside the box while trying to grab low-hanging fruit. Athletes are always giving 110 percent while taking it one game at a time and pursuing records that are made to be broken even while recognizing there is no "I" in team.
Relationships aren’t exempt. Most of us want to find the one or at least marry our best friend so that we can live happily ever after. Indeed there is no shortage of relationship cliches. That’s why you could tell me the plot of a dozen romantic comedies without changing any details.
But some of the worst relationship advice I have ever heard has come in the form of cliches. It’s not that they don’t point to some nugget of truth in your relationship—it’s that they keep you from focusing on what really matters. Here are three of the most egregious offenders that you should stop using immediately.
01. Marriage is a marathon not a sprint.
Marriage is most certainly not a short-term proposition—that’s obvious—and indeed, slow and steady does win the race. But the problem with considering marriage in race terms is that it presumes there is an end and even perhaps a winner. I’ve run two marathons in my life, and anyone else who has done it can vouch for me: Sometimes, the only thing that keeps you going is the promise of a finish line at 26.2 miles. Marriage, by design, doesn’t have a finish line. Marriage is just running. You cannot think of a marriage as a race to be won. You have to think of it as journey to be enjoyed, even though you’ll get tired and injured and you won’t always know where you’re going or how long it will take you to get there.
02. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger.
Some of my church friends will scold me for challenging this piece of Biblical wisdom, but when was the last time you had a meaningful, productive relationship conversation after 10 p.m.? I’m not talking about the late-night bonding over soft music and candlelight. I’m talking about the difficult conversations that are prone to escalate. Conversations that ultimately require empathy, compassion, and compromise. Often, conflict conversations lead to “flooding,” which is a physiological condition where elevated adrenaline and other stress hormones make it literally impossible to process information. Flooding is exasperated by fatigue and stress (and often enough, alcohol). When this happens, it’s critical that you learn to take a break. I earnestly believe that sometimes the best prescription for dealing with nasty conflict after dark is to sleep on it.
03. Compromise is about meeting in the middle.
In compromise neither party is going to get exactly what they want. That’s just the nature of the game. We don’t like this, and we work hard to protect our ideas and interests. When we do that, we get defensive and combative and the compromise process goes awry for fear that if we give an inch, they’ll take a mile. Some have suggested that the best way to compromise—on housework, for example—is a 50/50 split, but meeting in the middle doesn’t always work. In fact, it rarely works because the middle ground rarely leverages the best of both solutions. Indeed, you must learn how to compromise and find common ground, but at the relationship level, it’s almost never about what you ultimately decide. It’s about how you decide. As you negotiate, do you respect and enjoy your partner? Do you recognize that it’s more important to be connected than to be correct? Compromise isn’t about meeting in the middle; it’s about meeting in the moment.
There’s a lot of very good relationship advice out there, but even more bad advice. Pay close attention to what you’re being offered. Look for wisdom that leads to clarity. Be wary of “truths” that cloud the reality that relationships are ultimately about trust and commitment and patience. I’d love to hear the worst relationship advice you’ve ever received, especially if it’s come in the form of cliche. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet me @kzbrittle.