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.
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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.