As soon as the ring is slipped on, engaged couples are inundated with messages about how their relationship should be. Friends and family tell them what they should and should not tolerate. Among the bad ideas, couples hear that it’s “common knowledge” that marriage kills sex.
Nothing could be more wrong.
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.
Myth #1: “Active listening saves relationships”
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. So, for example, 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 just isn’t scientifically proven.
Myth #2: “Relationships are ruined by personality flaws”
Everyone has baggage that they’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. Luckily, she is married to Tom who treats her like an equal and doesn’t try to control her.
On the other hand, Ashley has a fear of being abandoned. Her husband Jake reinforces this by flirting with other women, 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 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.
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.
Myth #3: “Marriage is always equal”
Some therapists and relationship coaches will tell you that good partnerships require a reciprocal nature. “You help out with vacuuming the house, and 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. Unloading the dishwasher as payment because the other cooked doesn’t make a couple happy. Content relationships are about positive feelings, not a perfect 50/50 split.
In toxic relationships, 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 when you will have to do more than your fair share for a while. Maybe your partner is going back to school, or they are preparing for a major business venture. 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.
Myth #4: “Sex stops once you get married”
It’s believed sex is a well that dries up after a few years. 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 sexuality isn’t in its prime during the teenage or young adult years. To him, sexuality doesn’t mature until well into the 40s and 50s.
With time comes wisdom. Long-term committed relationships like marraige offer 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.
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