Want to be happy together? Ignoring these 10 false relationship beliefs is a good start.
We enter into relationships with certain beliefs about what good ones are supposed to be like and how we’re supposed to feel when we’re in one. These assumptions not only determine our behavior in the relationship; they also form the basis for assessing our relationship satisfaction and our views about the long-term compatibility of our partners.
Since schools do not yet teach Relationships 101 (but they really should), most of us base our assumptions on the relationships we see around us, whether those of our parents or relatives, those of our friends, or what we see depicted in the media. Needless to say, such information can be quite misleading and fail to reflect decades of research about relationship satisfaction and longevity.
Following are 10 common relationship myths, rated for accuracy (or rather, inaccuracy) on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being only mildly inaccurate. (Spoiler alert: There are no 10’s.) Feel free to add your own myths in the comments section.
1. If the relationship was “meant to be,” it will just work out.
Relationships are like ships: They need to be steered. Sure, you can just let the tide take you to…wherever, but when you crash or sink, don’t conclude the relationship wasn’t “meant to be”—it was your mutual passivity and lack of effort that doomed it.
Accuracy Rating: 2
2. Avoid voicing dissatisfactions early on.
The first stage of a relationship sets future expectations about the roles you each will play, your initiative levels, communication styles, and other relationship dynamics. If your partner is late to most dates, even by a little, and you say nothing, you message that you’ll be OK with their lateness going forward. If you’re not okay with lateness, you need to speak up, even on the second date, and even if by voicing just a mild and constructive comment.
Accuracy Rating: 4. (This is usually incorrect but depends on one’s communication skills.)
3. Couples should have sex X times a month/week/day.
One of the most common causes of sexual dissatisfaction for couples is faulty expectations. If you think you should have sex three times a week and you’re having it only once, you might be convinced something is wrong when it probably isn’t. Frequency of sex depends on the sex drive of both partners and, even more, on the actual circumstances and opportunity. If you think you’re not having enough sex, checking with friends to see how often they have it is pointless and misleading. Discuss it with your partner directly.
4. “He/she knows exactly what they did to upset me.”
Although many of us assume our partners should be able to read our minds, science has yet to prove the existence of telepathy even among long-term couples. Yes, your partner can probably tell you are upset but they’ve probably done a thousand things to upset you over the years, so figuring out which of them is the culprit this time is a risky proposition. Don’t stew and wait for them to confess. Just telling them why you’re upset will save you both time and aggravation.
Accuracy Rating: 3
5. Having a baby will solve our problems.
Having a baby is an amazing experience that will change your lives in every way. It is also the most stressful thing you could possibly do to a relationship. If your goal is to be too exhausted to argue, then procreate away. But if you’re already having problems, you should deal with them directly and not expect a baby to make them disappear. Marital satisfaction almost always dips after the birth of a couple’s first child; take that into account when doing family planning.
Accuracy Rating: 3 (At least at first, a baby is going to marginalize the relationship and introduce a lot of added stress.)
6. If you’re truly happy with your partner, you shouldn’t need to be close to anyone else.
This might be true if both of you are massively co-dependent but assuming you’re not, one person asserting this to his or her partner is either an attempt to control that person or just sheer ignorance about our basic psychological need for friendship and community.
Accuracy Rating: 4 (There is a minority of couples who are indeed happy this way, but for most of us it’s totally false.)
7. Couples in good relationships don’t argue.
One of the most consistent and established research findings in all of psychology is that what matters is not if coupes argue but how they argue. Productive arguments are those that avoid escalation and result in resolutions, problem solving, and mutually agreed takeaways for dealing with similar situations more productively in the future. Most couples should learn how to argue productively and practice the relevant skills if they want to change how they deal with conflict.
Accuracy Rating: 5 (Over time, and after years of problem solving, couples in good relationships should argue less.)
8. Never go to bed angry.
Would it be better to resolve conflicts before turning in? Yes. Is it realistic to expect to be able to do so when it’s already past midnight and you have to be up with the kids and/or for work the next morning and also function at your job? No. What you can do is agree never to go to bed without at least deciding when to continue the discussion or argument. In addition, some people actually need to cool down before they can continue a productive discussion, so taking a break could be wise.
Accuracy Rating: 4
9. You should learn to love your partner’s worst qualities.
If you read an article I wrote about marital pet peeves you’ll realize that some people have habits that are slightly disgusting and impossible to “love.” Fortunately, loving your partner’s poor qualities and habits is not necessary. Instead, simply accept them and learn how to shrug them off and minimize their importance.
Accuracy Rating: 4 (You can love some of their bad habits—but not all of them.)
10. Good relationships don’t require work.
This is my favorite, because it’s the most common myth and the most inaccurate. Of course relationships take work—and lots of it. You’re merging your own life, needs, wants, desires, dreams, and hopes, all of which shift and change over time and in response to various circumstances, with those of another person whose separate needs, wants, desires, and dreams also shift and change. How else is such a complicated endeavor possibly supposed to succeed unless you both work at it? How much work it actually takes might ebb and flow, but expect to invest attention and work even in the best of times.
Accuracy Rating: 1 (This is simply never true.)
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Guy Winch, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist, keynote speaker, and author whose books have already been translated into thirteen languages. His most recent book is Emotional First Aid: Practical Strategies for Treating Failure, Rejection, Guilt and Other Everyday Psychological Injuries (Hudson Street Press, 2013). The Squeaky Wheel: Complaining the Right Way to Get Results, Improve Your Relationships and Enhance Self-Esteem (Walker & Company) was published in January 2011. Dr. Winch received his doctorate in clinical psychology from New York University in 1991 and completed a postdoctoral fellowship in family and couples therapy at NYU Medical Center. He has been working with individuals, couples and families in his private practice in Manhattan, since 1992. He is a member of the American Psychological Association. In addition to the Blog on this site, Dr. Winch also writes the popular Squeaky Wheel Blog on Psychology Today.com, and blogs for Huffington Post.