Our knowledge and understanding of relationships originates from childhood and has a lot to say about how we choose our romantic partners.
But what if what we knew to be true about marriage could actually be doing more harm than good? As a marriage counselor for over 10 years who primarily works with couples, I’ve found that there are a lot of myths about what it takes to have a thriving relationship.
Here, I debunk the four most common lies we tell ourselves.
1. Happy couples never fight. Lie! The happiest couples- or what’s termed the masters of relationships- actually do fight and have regular disagreements. The key difference is in HOW they fight. Unhappy couples escalate conflict quickly with a lot of “he said-she said.” They tend to blame, take little to no responsibility for the fight and use harsh words. Happy couples, on the other hand, fight with kindness and love. They raise arguments in a non-defensive way and are careful to not offend or hurt one another. If arguments do get heated, they quickly diffuse the tension with humor, logic and affection. For more on the 4 most destructive relationship behaviors to avoid, read more here.
2. I have to change who I am for my relationship to work. False! We fall in love with and appreciate all of the little quirks and idiosyncrasies that our partner’s possess in the beginning but as the relationship progresses, we resent them. Within time, all of those unique personality traits feel annoying and unattractive. “Constructive criticism” feels like the next best step. “Why don’t you try working out more to lose some weight?” “You tend to procrastinate. Why not try waking up earlier in the morning?” Unfortunately, there is no such thing as constructive criticism. It is rarely ever received well. The message that it does send is “my partner isn’t happy with me and wants me to change.” Individuals in successful relationships aren’t looking to change their spouse and don’t expect their spouse to want them to change. They respect one another’s differences of opinion and find ways to appreciate their perspective. The next time you find yourself trying to “win” your side of an argument, use empathy, stay curious and find ways to respect their stance on an issue instead. You shouldn’t have to change who you are for the sake of the relationship, nor does your partner. Finding common ground is key.
3. We HAVE to be alike to make it work (Birds of a feather, flock together…right?). Not true! I don’t know about you, but I would get seriously bored with someone who’s a clone of myself. There’s something beautiful about the differences that we each bring to the table. The ability to challenge and enhance our own beliefs and ideas stretches our perspective and fosters personal growth. Sure, you should have the fundamentals in common- hobbies, mutual interests, faith and shared family goals- but the occasional differences in meeting eye-to-eye shouldn’t be a deal breaker.
4. Relationships shouldn’t have to be this hard. Myth! Even the best of couples go through seasons of highs and lows. But like anything in life, if you want to be successful, you have to work at it. A happy union doesn’t just fall into your lap. Marital success is earned, not gained. Devoting your time and energy daily seals the relationship from future pitfalls of disconnect. Tough seasons can often feel like forever, but making the commitment to fight for your relationship will give you hope for a more peaceful season ahead.
Real relationships are a far cry from romance novels and Lifetime movies. They bruise often, yet have the power and ability to heal. With the understanding that the road ahead will be filled with ease and rough edges equally, simple shifts in our perception of what defines a healthy relationship can offer new insight into what it really takes to make a relationship stand the test of time. If you feel like extra help is needed, couples counseling can be a highly effective method for improving relationships.