Mistake #1: Leaving the Romance Out of the Weather Report
Okay, grab a hanky—or 14—and watch this video from StoryCorps about an extraordinary 27-year-marriage that ended in terminal cancer
. The takeaway, in case you didn't watch it, or missed it as you collapsed into a puddle, is that Danny wrote Annie a love letter every day. Every single day. His love letters were simple notes. He calls them "romantic weather reports." "To my princess: The weather out today is extremely rainy... " begins one of them. You know you're going to talk about the weather. There's nothing wrong with that. Or there doesn't have to be anyway. Not when the weather is relayed in the language of love.
Mistake #2: Having Your Heart-to-Hearts on the Side
You know who really understands what you're going through? Your best girlfriend, who happens to also be a much-decorated First Date Veteran, or else is also married to a workaholic, or is in whatever relevant way your romance doppelganger. She is the only one who will be endlessly interested in your love-life minutiae, the one who is always on your side. Not like that confounded husband/partner/love interest of yours! But here's the thing: Once you've hashed out all the details with her, you've still got your problem, which was never really with her but with him, who was, of course, not invited to girls' night. Use the girlfriend chat as your dress rehearsal, if you must, but save the real heart-to-hearts for your partner. You know, the romantic one.
Mistake #3: Believing in the 15-Year Immunity
We've all heard of the Seven-Year Itch, but equally treacherous is a belief in the 15-Year Immunity. Just because you've been together for a long time doesn't mean you're beyond trouble. Maybe things aren't going so well and you tell yourself it's just a rough patch—once this stress is past and that issue resolved, your relationship is destined to return to greener pastures. This rough patch isn't Real Life, is it? Long relationships aren't always pleasant, right? Besides, you've been together forever. But if you want to hit the 50-Year Jubilation, you've got to overcome your belief in the 15-Year Immunity and dive in and fix what's not working.
Mistake #4: Staying Senselessly Shy in Bed
Be reserved when meeting someone's parents or going to church. Not in bed. Never in bed.
Mistake #5: Focusing Only on Your Mistake
I knew someone once who had a little debt problem. She had always struck me as a person who was enviably carefree about money until I realized this meant she was also rather carefree about amassing credit card debt that would make my heart race. Turned out, it made her heart race, too, especially after she got married to a fiscally responsible cash-only kind of man. What I didn't know was that she kept her debt a secret from him until she figured out a way to pay it off. I know, I know, we're supposed to tell our spouses everything, right? But she was afraid he would judge her, or worse, not want to have a future with her if he knew about the debt. Point is, we're not endorsing secrecy, but we are recommending doing your very best recon before setting off a tough-topic conversation grenade. Having a plan shows not only that you've tried to solve this problem but also that you recognize this is a problem (you'd be surprised how often that part is skipped over), that you're taking responsibility for it (ditto) and that you're demonstrating that you're going to do your best to make sure it won't happen again. And it's those extra two steps that diffuse the potential relationship-exploder into an unpleasant but survivable conversation to be had over dinner. A really nice dinner. That you made.
Mistake #6: Saying No to The Hangover 2
In every woman's every weeknight, there are choices to be made, obligations to be ignored if one is to have any hope for leisure time. But while you can and probably should ignore the unchecked e-mail, the mismatched-socks mountain, the eerily tinted bathtub grout, it's just not good home economics to put your significant other on the Deal With Later list. Yes, it's easy to zone out on the iPad while intermittently asking, "Did you want to do something?" But it's just as easy to watch Ed Helms getting a tattoo on his face while snuggling with your partner. Even if it's not a movie on your To-Watch list. Even if it's a movie on your Never-Watch list. The point is not the movie. The point is the low-demand, high-reward cuddling-up-ness of it all.
Mistake #7: Mistaking the One for the Only One
I once had the questionable fortune of sharing an office with a serial online dater who made a fine art of honing her OkCupid profile. She gave this thing the attention a novelist gives the revisions of a 500-page epic. He had to like poetry AND foreign films AND opera AND riding a fixed-gear bike AND have a good job AND have traveled abroad AND want kids AND eat Brussels sprouts. You know where this is going, right? Meanwhile, she had a diverse group of good friends, plenty of whom were available for riding bikes while snacking on Brussels sprouts on the way to the opera. She didn't need any of that stuff, she just needed a nice guy to hang out with.
The same applies once you're in a relationship, too. He doesn't have to be your love and your life partner and your racketball opponent and your Tex-Mex-cooking assistant. You have other friends to fulfill other needs, so – this is important!—don't forget to nurture those other relationships. Needing your one guy to be your one everything puts undue strain on both of you. Not to mention your Brussels sprouts friend, who misses you.
Mistake #8: Taking Advice from Internet Slideshows
We've all read the same old relationship advice again and again: Set aside a date night! Don't forget to have sex! But even though said advice may be sound, wise and exquisitely written (just throwing it out there), it might not net you a Get Happiness Free card. None of it works if you're just going through the motions. Don't get a babysitter and go out to dinner just because someone told you to if you know you're going to be exhausted and cranky and spend the whole night squabbling over household finances or something else boring—think about what particular things you and your partner are actually into. Maybe a monster-truck rally with the whole family is going to do you more good than a sleepy grownup dinner. Be yourselves, your idiosyncratic, unique, you-full selves, and adjust all relationship advice (including this) accordingly.
Next: What every woman needs to know about love by age 30