Debunking Relationship Myths
Have you ever been in a relationship and found yourself in conflict, turning toward friends and family to vent rather than to your own partner? All too often, we tend to turn away from our partner in times of conflict, than toward our partner. When we turn away from our partner, we tend to get confused with all sorts of advice. This advice is often false and can be potentially damaging to the relationship. These false beliefs, or myths are dangerous because they can lead couples down the wrong path, convincing them that their marriage or relationship is a hopeless case. All too often, clients come to me with these myths about how their relationship “should” be. I’d like to debunk those myths here:
1. Marriage is just a piece of paper.
Being married actually creates a long list of physical and psychological benefits. After 50 years of social study, it has been determined that in developed countries, the greatest source of health, wealth, longevity, and the welfare of children, is a satisfying and healthy marriage.
2. Living alone with occasional relationships is a lifestyle choice that is equivalent in terms of life outcomes to being married.
Again, research has shown that people who live alone die sooner, are less healthy, are less wealthy, and recover from illness slower than people who are married. This is especially true for men who tend to have less social support networks than women. When men are in a committed relationship, their social networks increase.
3. Conflict is a sign that you’re in a bad relationship.
Let’s be real, conflict is going to happen, and it’s not a bad thing! Conflict is there for a reason - to improve our understanding of our partner. Conflict usually arises from missed attempts to connect or communicate, especially one one person attempting to get emotionally closer to another. Conflict also emerges when partners have discrepancies in expectations. These are worth talking about and in fact, conflict creates intimacy. The goal is to manage conflict by accepting your partner’s influence, create dialogue about problems that arise, and practice self-soothing.
4. Love is enough.
Love is not enough. In fact, love is only part of the equation. We must think of love as an active, ongoing verb rather than a noun. People stop courting one another and they stop making romance, great sex, fun, and adventure a priority. Relationships have a tendency to become endless to-do lists, and conversation becomes limited to errand talk. You need to intentionally make (or keep) these parts of a relationship a priority.
5. Talking about past emotional wounds will only make them worse.
Past emotional wounds and conflict tend to have themes. Unless these past emotional wounds or conversations of conflict are resolved, they will continue to happen. It is possible to process past emotional injuries. You can’t change the past but you can change your recollection and retelling of it.
6. Better relationships are ones in which people are more independent of and less needy of one another.
Interdependence is what relationships are all about. In a great relationship, people try to meet one another’s needs. In fact, the more open you are about asking for your needs, the more likely you are to have your needs met.
7. If you have to work at communication, it’s a sure sign that you’re not soulmates.
If you don’t work at communication, the relationship will deteriorate over time, just like a car that’s not taken care of will fall apart. All relationships require work and communication takes practice! The work in relationships is down-regulating your own defensiveness and listening to your partner.
8. If a relationship needs therapy, it’s already too late.
There are 900,000 divorces a year in the USA, and fewer than 10% of those couples that divorce ever talk to a professional Couples therapy is now very effective and many of these couples could have made it work, had they sought help. Couples therapy targets many different areas of the relationship. I have had clients come to me hopeless about their relationship, and after just the assessment, hope has been re-instilled after talking about areas of strength and areas of growth.
9. What couples fight about most is sex, money, and in-laws.
There is no common theme about what couples fight about. While these are pertaining areas of conflict, the one thing that most couples fight about is most is nothing! These fights result from failed bids to connect emotionally. In these small moments, it’s important to turn towards instead of turning away. This promotes intimacy, rather than distance.
10. All relationship conflicts can be resolved.
Quite the opposite. In fact, 69% of relationship conflicts are perpetual or recurring. What is required is acceptance of one another’s personality differences. Dialogue should be created about these perpetual issues, to avoid gridlock and resentment. Again, the goal is to manage conflict, not resolve it.
11. All relationship conflicts are the same.
Some conflicts are deal breakers, and for those issues, compromise can be very difficult, if not impossible. It’s important to understand your non-negotiable when it comes to conflict.
12. It’s compatibility that makes relationships work.
It’s diversity that makes relationships interesting. We are not looking for our clones. Agreeability and conscientiousness are the characteristics that people really mean when they talk about “compatibility.” These qualities are indexed by a person being able to say things like “Good point,” or “That’s interesting, tell me more” or, “You may be right, and I may be wrong” during a disagreement.
As Dr. John and Julie Gottman have studied, it’s more than love and compatibility that make a relationship work. It’s creating shared meaning, managing conflict, trust, commitment, making life dreams come true, turning towards instead of away, sharing fondness and admiration, building love maps, and having a positive perspective that make a relationship work. Come learn how to improve your relationship with me!