We live in a world of constant upgrades, but for some reason, many couples are still following the 1.0 version of love advice. Time to click refresh. "Playing by specific rules can make you less likely to pay attention to your own inner voice and experiences," says Bethany Marshall, Ph.D., author of "Deal Breakers: When to Work on a Relationship and When to Walk Away. Start with these modern guidelines."
RULED OUT: Shacking up is bad for a relationship.
The old why-buy-the-cow adage can officially be put out to pasture. According to the most recent findings from the National Center for Health Statistics, a cohabiting couple has the same chances at a happy marriage as a pair who don't share an address before tying the knot. "Couples just need to be honest about why they're deciding to move in together," says Bill Cloke, Ph.D., author of Happy Together: Creating a Lifetime of Connection, Commitment, and Intimacy. "Is it a test run to see if the relationship is a good fit, with the option to bail if it isn't? That's a failing proposition from the get-go."
Nor should you and your guy shack up to save money or because a roommate has moved out. The grown-up way to play house: Make an emotional commitment first. Discuss your future together to make sure this move is a stepping-stone and not some sort of temporary or circumstantial solution, says Cloke.
RULED OUT: A no-strings shag can never turn into something meaningful.
Mr. Tonight could very well become Mr. Right: A recent study from the University of Iowa suggests that casual sex sometimes evolves into a committed relationship.
According to our research, a significant percentage of current relationships began with nonromantic sex," says study author Anthony Paik, Ph.D., an assistant professor of sociology. The reason? Casual sex has lost its taboo. "People now view hooking up as a predictable, normal part of life and don't let it contaminate or poison the beginning of a relationship," explains Marshall.
How do you boost the odds that your fling will turn into something more serious? Reset the pace. Despite how intimate your first date was, resist the temptation to see him every day and sleep over every time you hang out. "It takes time for a relationship to become real, and if you see him constantly and keep it all about sex, you will create only a false sense of closeness," says Marshall. Learning how to be together as a couple--both inside the bedroom and out--is one of the most important building blocks of a healthy union.
RULED OUT: Sex needs to be spontaneous to be hot.
"Spontaneous sex is a myth," says Laurie Mintz, Ph.D., author of A Tired Woman's Guide to Passionate Sex: Reclaim Your Desire and Reignite Your Relationship. Most of the steamiest sheet twisting you've done over the course of your relationship was planned, anticipated, and orchestrated. Did you and your guy flirt your way through a romantic meal? Did you put on your sexiest lingerie one morning in anticipation of what might happen that night? Guess what? You scheduled that sex.
And planning becomes even more essential the deeper you get into a relationship.
"When couples no longer have the orchestrated passion of dates, it becomes critically important to stop waiting for sex to just catch you unaware," says Mintz. "You have to start consciously carving out time for it." The good news is that penciled-in passion has the potential to be even steamier than a spontaneous romp: The anticipation and preparation for it can actually function as all-day foreplay, building tension that heightens the encounter when you and your guy finally rendezvous.
RULED OUT: Never go to bed angry.
It's a widely held belief that if you don't troubleshoot a tiff immediately, the unresolved conflict will fester overnight.
The truth is, most couples don't see eye to eye when they're angry, so the chances of successfully resolving a dispute when you still have smoke coming out of your ears is slim. The answer: Sleep on it, but commit to work it out in the light of day. "When you hold on to anger for a reasonable amount of time before expressing it, you have time to process your feelings and gain mastery over them," says Marshall.
Plus, your brain actually needs Z's to prep you to patch things up: Lack of sleep impairs judgment, decreases concentration and problem-solving ability, and changes the balance of neurotransmitters in the brain that are in charge of regulating mood, which is why sleep-deprived people have a shorter fuse, says Mintz. Just make sure, however, that you're biding your anger in order to process it and not to wall yourself off from the problem or your relationship.
RULED OUT: Don't talk about money matters unless you're married.
It's no surprise that people try to avoid conversations about cash — experts say money is one of the top three hot-button issues for couples. But it's important to find out if you're on the same page financially before you get hitched. "If you are a committed couple and you don't talk (or fight, albeit respectfully) about money issues while you're dating, there will be a 'flight' at some point — a potential splitting-up over these issues," says Cloke.
There's no need to bring up your 401(k) on the first date, but you should definitely disclose whatever financial baggage you're bringing into the relationship before things get serious. Whether you're saddled with serious student loans or you regularly change your phone number to avoid the good folks at MasterCard, come clean--and encourage your guy to do the same. "Bring up money issues from the perspective of 'no secrets' and 'we are in this together,' so there won't be any surprises down the road," says Cloke.
And it's important to figure out if you and your partner have the same money style.
"Ask yourselves whether you share similar values, goals, and interests about how you spend, save, and invest money," says Cloke. Even if you're not drawing cash from the same bank account, you and your guy should try to sync up your spending habits and make a budget you can stick to. (It's also important to be honest with each other when you don't.) How you spend and save as a couple will affect not only your daily lifestyle but also the plans you're able to make for the future.