Sorry folks, I know you wanted the David Copperfield of relationship coaching to come onto the interwebs and spin you up all the latest mind-blowing, earth-shattering, super duper powerful words and tricks that can make any man or woman rock your world.
But like two minutes of naked time and a rollover, I’ve disappointed you. Deliberately at that! Because the truth is, there are no such words or tricks that can take you to the promised land, despite advertising to the contrary.
When I first got into relationship coaching, I hired a marketing director to help get myself out there. After reading some of my draft articles and posters, she told me that my advice and approach was too practical, too pragmatic to sell. She further explained that I needed to learn how to create buzz through sensational headlines and inviting phrases like: “How to Make them Love You and Only You!”
The problem was I knew better. I knew that making someone love you was not only impossible, but unhealthy to boot. I wanted to help people find and sustain authentic and equal relationships.
Three days ago, I commented on an article that was promoting the idea that women needed to do certain things in order to reduce the likelihood that their man will cheat. I challenged this notion, first on the idea that people should have to take actions to affair-proof their relationships and second on the idea that the article was targeted exclusively towards women, as opposed to people in general.
The reactions to my comments were deplorable, yet humorous. My favorite was, “how about you take a testosterone shot and find your manhood?” That particular commenter worked for the author that published that article and clearly took issue with me—a man—commenting on advice that is directed solely at women. To which I say, shine on. There are those who peddle shallow and harmful advice and those who eat it up.
I have been a relationship coach for almost 10 years now, and I’ve seen the poisonous fruits of the sensational headlines and columns within them. Love is not an easy row to hoe and it gets harder as people suffer heartbreak and loneliness; and then, like a gambler looking for those lucky numbers, they read headlines like, “Why She Dumped You and How to Get Her Back!” So the nice, but downtrodden, young man reads this advice, takes meticulous notes and thinks, “It’s a sign.” Suddenly, the great guy becomes a jerk overnight, overstuffed with fake confidence and the wrong energy.
I’ve also seen bad advice put on display through great marketing that negatively impacts people’s views on relationships and gender expectations. For example, a headline that reads, “How to Get Her into Bed,” and includes shallow words and phrases that make women seem like fawning, loose bimbos susceptible to two magic words and a slight of hand.
I am often asked why I react so viscerally to these headlines and, more often, how I’ve managed to steer clear of them in my own professional practice. The former is attributed to the simple fact that relationship coaches and therapists have a lot of influence and should not be spewing advice that does not lead to equal and authentic relationships. When I see them doing just that, I go visceral. In response to the latter, my ability to steer clear of giving headline-chasing advice is really about two things. One, I will not be a hypocrite. Two, I consider myself counter-programming. People can focus on having the loud, expensive suit and louder voice or the quiet, confident t-shirt and other’s best interests at heart—at the end of the day, people know the difference. Even if they go for the golden goose at first glance.
But regardless of headlines and likes, there are a few basic, healthy and effective pieces of relationship advice you should take in. Here they are:
1. We must love ourselves first. I know, you’ve heard this a thousand times right? Well, here is the 1,001st time, with a smile. If we are not confident about who we are and what we bring to a relationship, a few things will happen. We will expect very little because we believe we deserve very little. We will cater and defer, even when we know better. We will be bullied, emotionally or otherwise. Bottom line: We will accept less than we need in a relationship.
2. We must understand what our needs are. Needs, by the way, are non-negotiable physical, personality and lifestyle traits we must have in order for us to be happy in a relationship. If we do not know what they are, we will constantly go on dates and get into a relationships with people, all without fully understanding whether or not they fit us. Have you ever started dating someone only to realize in month six that you’re really not compatible? That’s because you weren’t clear in your head and your heart about those needs from the start.
3. We must balance our head and our heart. Selena Gomez sings “The Heart Wants What It Wants”—I love this song and sing it every day of the week, and twice on Sunday. In fact, I’m taking my daughter to see her in concert this summer. But, there is a dangerous message behind the lyrics. If we follow our hearts without consulting with our heads, we will forever be in the moment without thinking about the future. As a result, our future will be filled with short-term and incomplete dating and relationship experiences.
4. We must teach people how to treat us. We teach people how to treat us by virtue of what actions and words we accept. If we are not mindful of this very basic relationship rule, we will always give more than we get and be treated worse than we deserve. The truth is, most of us are mindful of whether or not we are being treated as loved and equal partners, but we don’t often do anything when we feel shortchanged. Instead, we suck it up, roll on and wonder why nothing changes.
5. We must SWIM Backwards (aka Say What I Mean and Mean What I Say). If we must walk on eggshells, qualify or validate our words or simply stay silent, it means there is a barrier. I know, I’m a genius right? Not really, but the importance of open communication from day one cannot be overstated. The moment that we let barriers, regardless of what created them, go up and begin the communication strain, is the moment we’ve lost ourselves and any hope of a deep, open and truly intimate connection with our partner.
So there you have it, no magic beans, no crazy, earth-shattering, mind-blowing words of wisdom. These are the basics of relationships. I know you are smart enough to know the difference between this and gems like, “How to Make Your Partner Want You More!”
When I think about advice that can purportedly make someone want you, I reflect on the most famous song by Cheap Trick—“I Want You to Want Me.” Enough said.
Author: Chris Armstrong
Editor: Nicole Cameron; Catherine Monkman