Among the ups, the downs, the way, way ups, and the oh-no-do-we-need-to-break-up downs, it’s no secret that relationships are tough. But the sweet reward of being loved and getting to love someone in return is what inspires all of us to navigate these choppy waters. Sometimes, though, we need help figuring it out. We asked the Cut’s readers to anonymously share the best relationship advice they’ve ever received. Below, their pearls of wisdom.
1. My mom, who has been with my father for 47 years, once said to me: “I’m not always in love with your father, but I always love him. And I’m always surprised when I fall back in love with him.” I’ve been with my husband for 12 years. Because of my mom’s advice, I don’t panic when we’re going through a tough time; I look forward to falling in love with my husband again. And that moment is usually not sexy, like when one of our kids vomits in the middle of the night and he gets up to help me clean it up and then touches my foot with his foot when we finally climb back into bed. That’s love.
2. That I cannot choose to prioritize the desires, whims, or life choices of a significant other at the expense of losing my sense of self. If I become the best version of who my partner wants me to be (or who I think he wants me to be), I’m camouflaging all those wonderful parts of me that exist with or without that person.
3. When you get married, make sure the person you choose is someone you’d not only want to marry but also to divorce. For me, it highlights the importance of choosing someone who is gentle, caring, and good-hearted not only in the good times but also in the bad times.
4. A good friend once told me that you have to “fit your own oxygen mask first.” I was in a really bad place with depression and anxiety and trying to make a relationship work that was never going to work, fixing all of his issues and neglecting my own. It was the most intense wake-up-call piece of advice I’ve ever received, and I now repeat it like a parrot to anyone asking for advice. You can’t help anyone else until your own oxygen mask is firmly fitted.
5. Relationships are not 50/50. They’re 100/100. You have to give all that you’re capable of giving to your partner (love, understanding, forgiveness, acceptance), and expect that in return.
6. Just because someone doesn’t love you the way you want to be loved doesn’t mean they don’t love you. That really opened me up to thinking about new ways of appreciating people, and made me less angry. I was always expecting people to act how I wanted them to, but that is impossible 90 percent of the time.
7. When I got married, everyone told me, “Never go to sleep angry!” Well, I found the exact opposite to be true. Sometimes, it’s really good to step away from a heated conversation or disagreement and, you know, sleep on it. Wake up fresh, renewed, and maybe with a different perspective.
8. “When people show you who they are, believe them.” This advice is perfectly captured in this slumber-party video of Oprah and Maya Angelou. Everyone needs this in their life.
9. When there’s conflict, turn inward to the relationship rather than outward to others. Not sure where I heard this, but it’s affected my relationships so positively. When something comes up, rather than talking shit about my partner to my friends, I try to talk directly with him to hash it out. It increases intimacy and prevents your friends from permanently thinking poorly of your partner over what was likely a temporary problem.
10. Before starting an argument or getting upset over something small, ask yourself, Do I want to choose intimacy or anger? It may seem like a no-brainer, but checking in with myself that way has helped me recognize when my emotions might be getting the better of me in any given situation with my partner, and reminds me that most things are not worth fighting over. There is usually a better way to communicate or understand where my partner is coming from.
11. “Fuck happiness.” This advice stuck with me because it’s so to the point and so opposite of what we’re taught to think. We are so sold on “happily ever after,” but relationships are at their deepest when you can deal with and support each other through the stupid days, the downtrodden days, the boring days. Happiness isn’t the goal; it’s the result.
12. My mom told me to always ask questions on a first date because everyone wants to feel listened to. And to always dump the person who doesn’t ask any questions back.
13. “Don’t go into it thinking they’re the one.” This was super important because I feel like if you go through betrayal at a young age (21 for me, at the time) you just want to find your person and enjoy and grow with them and live happily ever after. Oftentimes, by wanting this so badly, you push other people into boxes that they don’t want to be in, instead of taking things at face value, and the situation blows up in your face fairly quickly.
14. The best relationship advice I’ve received is something I literally found on a therapy website: Be honest, with your partner AND with yourself. This seriously helped me through a rough patch in my relationship, and reminds me that I can only be honest with my partner if I’m honest about how I’m feeling on my own first.
15. Best piece of advice was oddly from a film … in the Richard Curtis film About Time, Bill Nighy’s character tells anyone looking for love to find someone kind. It is such an underrated but essential trait in any partner, and one that isn’t put high enough on “the list.” It struck such a chord with me and I think about it daily in how I approach both romantic, platonic, and professional relationships.
16. My mom told me when I was 15, “Boys are like buses, a new one comes around every 15 minutes, so there’s no point of crying when you miss the first one.” It made me realize that life goes on after a breakup, even when it feels like the end of the world. There will be plenty of opportunities to find love, and you can’t take rejection so seriously, especially when you’re young.
17. “Staying is a choice.” My mom told me this when my marriage was clearly over and I felt powerless, terrified, hopeless, all those dark places you go when you know that it’s over but you stay and stay and stay, and try and try some more, only to come to the same heartbreaking conclusions. I learned to love myself above all else and to love myself enough to leave.
18. As women, we tend to want to nest and nurture and love. Sometimes it means we try to fit a square peg into a round hole. When they’re not right for you, let them go. I watched my mom do it for 20 years and then I did it for 4 years. Thankfully, I learned my mother’s lesson.
19. Your partner is not a mind reader, whether it’s flowers or sex positions. You can’t expect them to know your needs and desires unless you tell them.
20. It’s not about finding the person you want to share one life with. It’s about finding the person you want to live your life with, like two separate lanes going in the same direction. It’s the kind of relationship you have with your sisters, your best friends, and hopefully one day, a partner.