The Most Damaging Relationship Beliefs People Think are True
And what you need to know instead
Can I tell you one of the saddest, most frustrating things for a couple therapist?
It’s seeing so many people making the same destructive mistakes in their relationships. Fact is, there are some common relationship beliefs that most people think are true, that actually damage relationships. I regularly see the same unhelpful mindsets leading to pain and disconnection for couples because these unhelpful ideas are so pervasive.
So, it’s time for some myth busting in the hope I can save you and a lot of other people from a relationship world of pain.
Belief: It’s good for couples to fight to get it out of their systems
Nope. There are many things on which couples simply won’t agree, but research shows that one of the greatest secrets to a successful relationship is how well you disagree.
It’s essential for couples to talk and help each other manage stress and differences of opinion. So it’s vital to learn how to stay present and engaged in a loving way so disagreements lead to greater understanding of one another’s points of view. Only then can you look for shared solutions and feel closer.
Fights generally lead to feeling more disconnected, isolated and defensive. Learning how to disagree without fighting — which means saying no to raised voices, name-calling and defensiveness, is possibly the most important of all relationship skills.
Copious research shows that the behaviours most likely to lead to divorce are criticism and contempt, shutting-down emotionally and defensiveness. If you don’t know how to disagree without slipping into those habits — get help now!
What To Do Instead:
Listen instead of talking, take turns to speak and ask yourself this one simple question before you say something you’re likely to regret in a disagreement:
Is what I’m about to say or do helpful?
(Meaning, is it going to bring us closer together, or is it going to lead to greater distance between us and growing resentment?)
Let the answer to that question (which should be pretty easy to guess at!) guide you in whether you’re on track in your communication, or whether you’re likely to do damage through harsh words or a hostile attitude.
Think of your couple as a team. A successful team doesn’t waste time and resources scoring points against its own team mates — that would be crazy, right? And you would likely lose the match altogether.
It’s got to be the two of you facing the world united.
In-fighting hurts everyone.
And one last thing...
Withdrawing, by which I mean refusing to engage or ‘shutting down’ when you’re annoyed or disagree with your partner, can be just as hurtful and damaging as being openly aggressive.
If you tend to get overwhelmed in disagreements, breathe, take a friendly time-out, slow the conversation down and tell your partner how you’re feeling.
Staying engaged and emotionally present shows that you’re committed to finding a solution, even if you don’t know exactly how you’re going to get there.
Staying warm and connected even when you see things differently deepens trust in each other that you’re there for the hard times as well as the easy. That’s where lasting love and intimacy really begin.
Belief: All you need is love (to live happily ever after)
OK, in a perfect world the Beatles would be right and love would be all you need, but unfortunately even Sir Paul McCartney learned the hard way that it takes more.
I see too many couples who said well-meaning marriage vows about ‘good times and bad’ but settled into a life of complacency and resentment towards each other.
Love is supposed to just happen, and keep happening, right?
What To Do Instead:
Love isn’t hard work, but it doesn’t thrive without attention, emotional awareness and engagement.
Resentment and complacency are the enemies of love.
Keeping your relationship connected and passionate takes desire from both partners to stay emotionally present, good humoured acceptance (in spades), loads of compassion and flexibility, and a big willingness to apologise when you inevitably screw up.
As much as possible, you need to behave towards one another as you did in the early part of your relationship. Rather than taking one another for granted, behave as you did when you wanted to attract your partner at the start. You seduced them by giving them the best of you — why would you take that away and expect things to remain as good?
The best way to keep your love alive and the passion smoking is to be the most caring, mindful presence in one another’s lives 24/7 even in the subtlest of ways.
Keep talking, stay engaged, never criticise, and let compliments and encouragement flow at every opportunity.
For more on creating the relationship you most desire and rising out of challenges and inevitable mistakes, grab a copy of Lovelands.