When I was younger, I had all these ideas about a romantic partnership and marriage. Since I wasn’t taught what healthy relationships look like, I learned from the idealized marriages on TV or in movies: The Brady’s on The Brady Bunch, The Cunningham’s on Happy Days, or The Huxtible’s on Cosby (I know, I know). I only saw relationships on the screen and what society presented as ideal while I was growing up.
After three marriages, I’ve unlearned the unattainable myths our society holds for relationships. In fact, these idealized notions can make a couple’s relationship more unhealthy.
Here are three myths of having a healthy relationship that I’ve had to unlearn over time.
Happy couples never fight
When you live with someone, it’s impossible to be happy and content all the time. Eventually, the two of you will differ on essential topics. It’s not important that you disagree with each other, but rather HOW you both resolve your disagreements.
Fighting fair is healthy in a marriage. Fighting to win makes an unhealthy and unhappy marriage.
In my past two marriages, arguments wracked my relationships. Our fights escalated the more we tried to resolve the problem. One husband ignored me and refused to settle anything. The other threw a temper tantrum and became verbally abusive. Both ways cast stones into the relationship bucket that eventually sank our marriage.
In my current partnership, we work (sometimes painstakingly) through the problem together. Neither one of us likes conflict, and both of us approach strife differently. However, we have respect for each other and our relationship. Since we’re older, we know that a disagreement requires respectful communication with a lot of gentle navigation. We also know we must reinforce our love for each other, even during the conflict.
Sometimes conflict isn’t something we can resolve. We’ve learned that sometimes resolving conflict is less important than understanding each other’s opinions, even if we don’t agree with them.
Marriage is the universal step you take in life
I was always taught that you became an adult, there was a list of achievements, in this exact order, to have a perfect life:
- graduate from college, get a good job
- find a boyfriend, get engaged, get married.
- have children
- work for your entire life to support yourself, your family, and save for retirement
- retire, then die
Wow, is that archaic, or what?
In the past, this ideal life was hammered into our heads, and if we didn’t achieve this, we let down society.
Life is not a universal timeline of “achievements.”
Marriage and/or having kids isn’t for everyone. Marriage will not take away your loneliness. Your lifestyle does not have to involve a partner or parenthood to make you happy.
In life, we are going to experience hardships and will be thrown off track at some point. Our dreams are different than what society expects of us.
There are no rules for what will make you happy. We are all unique, and you need to find whatever it is that makes you happy. Your happiness should not be based on whether or not you’re in a relationship. A relationship can add or detract from your joy in life, so don’t push for something you think you need if you aren’t sure it’ll be a good fit for you.
Live life and be happy with the content of the people who share it with you. That’s what will make you happy.
Elevating your commitment to each other will save your relationship
I’m twice divorced with a lot of relationship mistakes. I’ve learned that a long-term commitment isn’t based on marriage or having kids. Commitment is based on two people getting to know each other very well and deciding to be together and build on their relationship.
Communication is the most important thing here because both people need to hear and be heard.
Even after a formal commitment, such as marriage, personal responsibility is an everyday action. When one person is on the fence, or outright disrespectful and creating a foundation of doubt, you have no base to build on and grow as a couple. You are pulling all the weight while the other person is skating along, feeling fine. After all, they’re in the catbird seat, with no plans to leave because they have a “relationship” and everything that comes with it without having to work for anything.
If a person isn’t committed to you, they will not be more committed if you get married and/or have children. This may bind you to them more tightly, but do you really want to be wrapped up with someone who is squirming to break free?
Of course not.
However, many women (myself included) believe that even though the relationship sucked, getting married, or having babies would bring the partners closer together. It does the exact opposite; it pushes the two further apart.
You want someone who doesn’t hesitate when you discuss your future together. You want a partner, not someone you have to lead along and hope they are as committed to you as you are to them.
You want a person who shows you that you mean the world to them, and they show you in their actions — being a solid foundation for you, being loyal to you, and including you in their life. Not someone who is there for selfish reasons, whether it’s sex, a warped image to hold up their massive ego, or even darker than that (such as power plays).
If you demand marriage or get pregnant, that isn’t going to make him love you. It’ll eventually make him resent you.
You must sleep together or your relationship is in trouble
When I say “Sleeping together,” that doesn’t mean sex. It means sharing a bed together. Sharing a bed for slumber does not ensure a healthy relationship, just as sleeping in separate bedrooms does not mean you are an unhappy couple.
In fact, how you sleep doesn’t determine your relationship at all. What differentiates your relationship is how flexible you are if your current sleeping accommodations aren’t working for you.
Many people have problems with sleep: different sleep/wake cycles, snoring, insomnia, sensitivity to light or noise, or other preferences for your mattress.
It’s up to you as a couple to communicate with each other to determine how both of you can get a good night’s rest. Lack of sleep will turn your relationship and your life into a nightmare.
Sleeping together is one of the biggest problems my husband and I have. We like to sleep on different mattresses (I like a more firm mattress than him), I snore and have insomnia. I go to bed earlier and wake earlier than my husband.
It’s up to me to manage my sleep problems, but it’s up to my husband to tell me what he can and can’t live with. We have a newer relationship (five years together). Coming into the relationship with our individual needs set in stone, it took a lot of ingenuity to develop a way for both of us to get a good night’s sleep.
We could sleep in separate bedrooms, and our relationship wouldn’t suffer, so why do we go through all of this? Well, we have sat down and talked several times about our sleeping differences. We may turn towards separate bedrooms in the future, but for now, we are satisfied with our arrangements.
We also know several couples who have their own bedrooms. They have healthy relationships, and like us, they have several sleep challenges.
These friends have reassured us that if we need to have separate bedrooms in the future, it won’t mean our relationship is over.
When passion fades, your relationship is in trouble
When I was young, I envisioned a man who was passionate about our relationship. He loved me unconditionally, and we lived happily ever after.
Well, that’s a Disney story, not real life.
Of course, there’s passion in the beginning. You want to be around each other all the time. You have sex “all the time.” The romance is intoxicating, and you feel like a Goddess.
Who DOESN’T want to feel that way all the time?
However, passion is a hot and fast flame that eventually burns itself down after a while. Passion is what you may call in the animal kingdom as “mating.”
When passion naturally recedes as you become more partnered together, two things can happen. You find that the two of you aren’t compatible and go separate ways, or you ease into a more solid foundation of love.
A partnership after the mating period takes work. You take two people and put them in a long-term relationship, you’ll find many bumps in the road. Two different people make one life together, and that’s going to cause eventual conflict. Fueling your love by communicating, instilling trust, showing respect for your partner, and healthily working through conflict will keep your connection alive.