The blueprint that we use to navigate our relationships is made up of what we learned from our parents, the media, what people choose to show us on social networking sites and our past experiences. These sources build our theory of what a “good” relationship looks like, it guides our actions, and establishes a set of expectations of our partner and of our relationship. Sometimes, we think a lot of these things are normal, thus making it difficult to get out of an unhealthy relationship pattern.
I’ve came up with a list of ten common beliefs that will have your relationship in knots; but don’t worry, I drop a few gems to untangle that knot!
1. Fighting is an omen
I tell my couples in my private practice all the time, fighting is okay, but it’s how you fight. Believe it or not there is a healthy way of fighting by keeping the conversation honest and not verbally attacking each other. Remember you can’t take back words or how you made someone feel. This will create an issue of trust in the future and both partners will put up walls as they defend themselves against one another. Keep in mind that you two are on the same team. Operate from the perspective of “we-ness” not “me-ness”. Relationship guru, Dr. John Gottman’s research has shown that a simple 20 minute break during a conflict can help you calm down. Refocus your energy by doing something relaxing like taking a walk.
2. If you have to work hard, your relationship sucks
It’s impossible to take hard work out of relationships. If you don’t work at effective communication, it is only a matter of time that the relationship will deteriorate. All happy relationships demand work.
3. Talking to friends or family about your relationship is important
When you complain to an outside party about your relationship, it creates a whole new set of problems. Think about the impact of what you’re telling them – especially if what you’re telling is ill only to get validation or feel good about yourself. Your friends or family will not support your relationship. Worse still, it could even lead to cheating.
4. Always pick your battles
You should feel emotionally safe expressing how you feel about something and not have to pick and chose when to say what. If there is something that happened that made you feel [fill in the blank], then express that. If your partner feels that their feelings don’t matter, they will less likely be motivated to open up or hear your side of the story. The magic happens when both partners feel understood by each other that they can begin to work together to find common ground. Keep in mind: in every disagreement there are always two points of view and they are both valid. Ignore the facts and instead focus on understanding the way your partner feels.
5. Get married or have a baby
That will make the problems in your relationship go away. This one makes me laugh and cringe everytime I hear it. Just like building a house, your foundation has to be solid before you can start thinking about what color to paint the walls. The foundational elements of a relationship consist of things like trust, respect, and the degree to which you feel your partner is capable of meeting your needs. If these elements are shaky, trust me, no wedding or child can fix that. Often times, periods of transition (i.e. a birth of a child or a new job) makes your relationship more vulnerable.
6. You have to change for your partner if you love them
Understand that when we enter into a relationship, it’s a “buy as is” policy. You get what you see. Don’t set out to change someone. You should only want your partner to change for the good, as in, encouraging them, to achieve their goals in life or adopting a healthier lifestyle. Your relationship should be a source of motivation for becoming a better individual. It’s unfair and unrealistic to force your partner to change.
7. If you lose the spark, the relationship is over
Although sex and romance are important in a relationship, it ebbs and flows. Life happens, we might be tired that night, stressed out from work, or not feeling too hot, which can most certainly decrease your libido. Both partners aren’t going to always be on a leveled playing field when it comes to this. Don’t think it’s something wrong with you because your partner wasn’t in the mood. During these times, don’t try to persuade your partner to be intimate and don’t shame them, instead, understand what’s going on and try to alleviate the issue and be patient with each other. With that being said, understand that this happens, but don’t allow your relationship to suffer from our daily life stressors.
8. They may not be the one if they don’t understand
If your partner doesn’t know exactly what you want or how you feel, they aren’t the right one. No one is a mind reader. Speak up! It’s your responsibility to express your needs to your partner so they have the opportunity to fulfill them. The mistake most people make is expressing how they want to feel.: “I want you to make me feel wanted.” This statement can open up a can of worms. Instead, be as specific as possible by saying, “I need romantic date nights every weekend, your undivided attention during our date nights, and surprise me with flowers a few times out the year”. This gives your partner direction and leaves no room for misunderstanding your needs.
9. “If it’s meant to be, it will be”
Or “if a person stays through the b.s. it means they love you”. Let’s be honest, love is not enough to sustain a healthy, fulfilled relationship. Relationships take work (have I said that enough?) and investment. If both partners aren’t ready or willing for what’s ahead, then it might be a good time to reevaluate your role in the relationship. In most relationships, especially after a baby arrives, partners loss focus in courting one another and they stop making time for great sex, intimacy, fun, and adventure a priority. If you aren’t careful, relationships have a tendency to become endless honey-do lists and conversations are restricted to household responsibilities or child-related. I encourage my couples to make time for themselves and each other and not to lose focus of this.
10. If you need couples therapy, it’s too late to save your relationship
There is a 40-50% divorce rate in the United States. The average couple waits 6 years before seeking therapy for their marital issues. To make matters worse, half of all marriages that end do so in the first 7 years. A lot of folks have the attitude “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. And if it’s broke, don’t talk to a shrink because I’m not crazy.” Couples therapy is very effective and early intervention is best (and you don’t want to be part of that 50% of people that gets divorced this year).
Each relationship is unique and has its own struggles, challenges, and successes. In my therapy practice I help clients understand that it is counterproductive to compare their relationship to what they think other relationships are, i.e. because you don’t really know what goes on behind closed doors. What works for one relationship, may not work for another. Focus on your partnership and identify the challenges and strengths, then get to work creating a sound foundation.