Illustration: ThinkstockBy Leigh Newman
So-Called Mistake #1: You Drop the Love BombOh, God...you had the weird dark beer (with the hugely high yet unmarked alcohol content), or the two of you spent the night together for the first time (and it not only wasn't awkward, it was almost spiritual), or you witnessed him save the life of a puppy by diving into the street just before a speeding car barreled by, or--and this is by far the best case scenario--you looked across the table at him just as his eggs fell off his fork and onto his lap and felt as if this particular guy might just be the goofiest, funniest, most-perfect-man-for-you-ever. At which point you thought, "Why not just say it? I'm a grown-up," and the words "I love you" came out of your mouth.
On date three.
Or some other time frame officially known as "way, way too early."
The odds are, the guy is not going to say it back. (This is a good thing; you two really don't know each other yet.) So...you're going to have sit through one of the longest silences in your life, one in which you will be able to hear the sound of cells dividing and molecules moving through space. He may eventually stammer, "Thanks?" or pretend it never happened. But the gulp-inducing truth is out. If he flees in terror, there is an upside: You will not have to waste a lot of time with somebody who is afraid of commitment. That kind of individual will be out of there, but he was always out of there, and you just saved yourself the heartache of trying to convince him otherwise. For the undecided but interested guy, the one who likes you right now but is a bit overwhelmed at your revelation, things might be a little weird. But you have set an admirable precedent for the relationship, one that is exceptionally helpful on month three or year three: honesty above all else.
So-Called Mistake #2: You Continually, Endlessly, Can't-Help-Yourselfly Do More Than Your 50 PercentJust about every expert in the world warns against this--with good reason. If you're finding the new house, arranging the mortgage, supervising the movers, picking out all the furniture and installing it (before he comes home; he gets so tired on Fridays), you're doing too much. You're not only going to be mad, you're also going to do humiliating things to your own self like scream at him in the middle of the Ikea cafeteria or run over his Sunday newspaper with the lawn mower and pretend the teenager next door did it.
That is...unless your partner is also continually, endlessly, can't-help-himselfly doing more than his 50 percent. This is an idea, I know, that at first sounds preposterous. But it's one that can change both of your notions of love: He does too much for you; you do too much for him; and thus the two of you are knocking yourselves out while simultaneously being supported and replenished. Afterward, of course, the two of you can write a best-selling book together called The End of Resentment.
So-Called Mistake #3: You Keep a Big Ugly Secret (for a While)Big ugly secrets, in love, are no-no's. Except when that big ugly secret may, if given some time, shrivel down into a small, more understandable secret that you eventually reveal. For example, it's probably helpful to your relationship if you hold off until you're already happily married (and maybe have a few kids) to tell your husband that way back in time, when he was your fiancé and you were nervous about marriage, you booked a Greyhound ticket to anywhere, just in case you fled the altar at the last minute. I'm not saying lying is okay, or that even omitting the truth is okay. I'm saying waiting is okay, because giving yourself some time to evaluate the magnitude--or triviality--of an issue is also an opportunity to understand what you really want.
So-Called Mistake #4: You Yell at Him Using an "Always" or a "Never"Relationship-saving professionals everywhere agree. When you're mad, you shouldn't say "always" or "never" to your other half. In many cases, this is excellent advice. He doesn't always ignore you in front of his mother (at least once or twice he has had to look at you in her presence), and it's not possible for you to have never ever listened to him when he was talking about the importance of air fresheners (words make it down the ear canal, even words like "pine-scented"). "Always" and "never" tend to exaggerate the complaint you're describing, both making your partner feel horrible and discrediting you in the process.
However, there is one set of circumstances when "always" and "never" have a place. This is when they are true. Let's say my husband and I are whisper-bickering, which is what we do if we happened to disagree between 8:30 p.m. and 8:50 p.m., when the kids are pretending to try to fall asleep. If the issue is cookies-back-in-the-drawer, it is perfectly fine for me to say, "You always leave the cookies out!" Because my husband always, always leaves the cookies out, so that they get dry and stale and are unusable for lunches for the rest of the week. My point: Housework is not part of the always-never rule. It's one of those things that people approach with compulsive regularity or compulsive refusal. You can nail your partner on these points! You can slam-dunk him and be totally, eternally right--while he is totally, eternally wrong! This is really helpful for a relationship, because you (and you alone) will feel like the All-Mighty Lord of the Universe...for about five seconds, until he slam-dunks you back with a comment like "You never clean out the car." At which point you can either laugh cutely, hoping that charm will get you out of this mess--or you and he can sit down and talk about how to divide the household drudgery so that neither of you feels as if the other is always never doing anything to help.
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So-Called Mistake #5: You Go on the Overambitious VacationThe overambitious vacation is #17 on the list of the world's fastest ways to break up (yes, this list does exist, but it's stored in a secret bank vault, the one mentioned in Harry Potter guarded by goblins). Nothing kills love more quickly and effectively than a 10-day sprint through Central America to visit every single Mayan pyramid, with stops to throw up from a parasite, pass out from heat exhaustion, and sleep in the dirt while being relentlessly attacked by mosquitoes because your jeep broke down in the jungle, the jeep that every goddamn person in the village told you not rent--but you took anyway, because it was 15 dollars cheaper.
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Except, that is, when the exact same 10 days kindles passion, riveting stories and a lot of laughs. What transforms a trip into the latter, I believe (and I speak from a lot of experience, including: Mexico in July, Ecuador during a kerosene riot, camping with a 4-week-old newborn), is whether or not the two of you are able to recognize that you chose this trip. You could be at work. You could in a line for carpool. But instead you decided to do something extraordinary. Be it extraordinarily wonderful or disastrous, you didn't settle for a mother-in-law's condo. Lots of things in life are overambitious and unforgettable due their deviation from the so-called norm. One of the most rewarding, of course, is love.
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