By Kyle Benson
As soon as the engagement ring is slipped on, we are inundated with messages about how our relationship should be. Our friends and family tell us what we should tolerate and what we shouldn’t. It’s “common knowledge” that marriage kills sex, right?
What you believe about your relationship determines the relationship you end up with, and some of these common beliefs can be toxic. They lead couples down the wrong path, or worse, convince them that their marriage is hopelessly going to go up in flames.
These myths ruin countless healthy relationships just because a couple believes there is something fundamentally wrong about it.
Active Listening Saves Marriages
According to Dr. John Gottman, active listening and conflict resolution in marriage don’t work. The research has shown that even after using active-listening techniques, couples were still distressed. The few couples who did benefit relapsed within a year.
Active listening requires Olympic-gold-medal-emotional performances. The idea expects you to swim in a pool of emotional criticism next to Michael Phelps. Even though Susan may do her best to hear Steve’s complaints, the person he is whining about isn’t a spectator in their marriage – it’s her husband – and behind all those “I” statements is her!
It’s not that validation, active listening, and “I statements” are useless. Dr. Gottman uses a modified version in his conflict blueprint, but the myth that all you need to do is to “fight better” or less frequently to save your marriage just isn’t scientifically proven.
“Even happily married couples can have screaming matches – loud arguments don’t necessarily harm a marriage.” – Dr. John Gottman
If you want to learn how to listen to each other and dialogue about your problems, then check out The Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work.
Marriages Are Ruined By Personality Flaws
Every single one of us has baggage we’re not rational about. Tom Bradbury of UCLA calls these “enduring vulnerabilities.”
For instance, Lacey struggles with authority. She hates bosses. That’s why she runs her own company. If she were married to a controlling partner, the marriage would be World War III. Lucky for us, she is married to Tom who treats her like an equal and doesn’t try to control her.
Whereas Ashley has a fear of being abandoned. Her husband Jake reinforces this by flirting with any cutie that walks by, even though he is devoted to their marriage. When Ashley tells him how much this bothers her, Jake laughs. He tells her it’s harmless, and he tells her to get over it.
Ashley can’t just “get over” the threat of abandonment, so Jake’s unwillingness to stop eventually drives them apart, ending in divorce. It’s not that personality flaws or vulnerabilities ruin marriages. It’s how we choose to deal with them in the relationship that determines if it will last.
All of us are imperfect. The trick to making a marriage last requires both partners to tolerate each other’s “crazy” side. We must learn how to handle our partner’s vulnerabilities with care, affection, and respect.
Note: There are situations, like severe mental illness, addictions, clinical depression, phobias, and PTSD that require the support of a knowledgeable and experienced mental health professional.
Marriage Is Always Equal
Some therapists and relationship coaches will tell you that good marriages require a reciprocal nature. “You scratch my back, I scratch yours.” “You help out with vacuuming the house, I’ll help out by taking out the trash.” This requires couples to function with an unwritten agreement to offer something in return for each kind of word or deed.
Keeping a running tally of who has done what for whom is actually a sign of trouble in a marriage. Unloading the dishwasher as payment because the other cooked doesn’t make a couple happy. Happy marriages are about positive feelings, not a perfect 50/50 split.
In toxic marriages, this unspoken contract is full of anger and resentment. When a couple writes up a “contract” of who does what, it’s no longer about unconditional love and supporting each other. It’s about keeping score.
There will be times in your marriage where you will have to do more than your fair share for a while. Maybe your wife is going back to school, or your husband is preparing for a business meeting that could give him a big promotion. Usually they’ll do the same for you when your challenges come. It’s not about being equal in everything, it’s about loving each other and working with each other to make things work. And sometimes it won’t feel fair.
This doesn’t mean you should be doing everything for your partner while waiting for them to do everything for you. That’s also toxic. If you feel like things have been unfair for a while, don’t hold it in. Go to your partner and tell them that you feel like you’re doing a lot and would feel better if they could help you out with some of the things that need to be done. No scorecard needed.
Sex Stops Once You Get Married
It’s believed sex is a well that dries up after a few years into the marriage. The problem isn’t this myth – it’s the belief that it’s normal to stop having sex or being intimate. When sex and intimacy stops in a relationship, it’s a sign that both partners need growth to occur.
In David Schnarch’s book The Passionate Marriage, he argues that our sexuality isn’t in its prime when we are teenagers or college students. To him, our sexuality doesn’t mature until well into our 40’s and 50’s.
With time comes wisdom. Marriage offers you the biggest growing machine there is. The time with your partner allows you to explore your deepest desires with someone you trust. It allows you to experience new ways of loving each other. Your marriage gives you a foundation to face the anxiety of growing, so you can embody your full sexual potential.
Studies show that couples in long-term relationships have more sex than their single counterparts. So when the spontaneous passion stops in the bedroom, don’t leave things up to chance. If you want your sex life to be amazing, work at it.
What other myths about marriage have you been told? Let us know in the comments below.
This article was originally published on The Gottman Relationship Blog.
If you want to avoid the common myths and build a deeply meaningful relationship full of trust and intimacy, then download our popular guide, 7 Signs Your Relationship Last here.