Relationships are a tricky business. Many of us spend a great deal of time thinking about relationships, preparing for them, even recovering from them.
As a therapist, I see relationship problems come up quite often in my work with clients. In fact, it’s one of the most common reasons why people seek out therapy.
The German poet Rainer Maria Rilke states, “For one human being to love another; that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation.”
With that, I’d like to help us all prepare accordingly. Here are some common relationships myths and their realities:
Myth #1: There is one right way to be in a relationship.
Reality: Relationships are complicated and dynamic interactions, and no two relationships are the same. For better or for worse, our immediate environments growing up model and teach us about relationship expectations and challenges. When we start to form intimate relationships of our own, we come into them with expectations as a result of our conditioning.
In order to avoid leaving those expectations unchecked, it’s imperative that each of us gives voice to even the most basic expectations of our partners because they may differ greatly than what our partner brings to the table.
Unmet expectations may lead to lower relationship satisfaction (and even less commitment) over time. Talk through your expectations with your partner early on so that you both can make well-informed decisions (especially if you are considering your long-time relationship viability).
Myth #2: Everyone should be in a romantic relationship.
Reality: Culturally, we have created the expectation that everyone should be, or needs to be, in a romantic relationship in order to be happy. This creates a lot of anxiety and stress with people as they age and could even contribute to increasing isolation as people hyper-focus on finding a romantic life partner.
The reality is that not every relationship will last forever, and being in a romantic relationship is not the only kind of relationship that can bring meaning into your life. Filling your life with a variety of connections can help you live a balanced life where your wide variety of emotional relational needs can be met.
Myth #3: You can fix sexual incompatibility.
Reality: There is a big difference between having bad sex and being sexually incompatible. Many people believe that you can fix sexual incompatibility, but most sex and relationship experts will tell you this is only true, to a point. Sexual difficulties are often a big part of relationship dissatisfaction.
Sure, there are things that you can do to make sex better with your partner better, and a sex therapist can help you explore those options. But, if your partner has a must-have of enjoying golden showers or being tied up and you can’t imagine participating in that ever, then it’s likely you two aren’t compatible sexually.
It can be helpful to check in with a relationship or sex therapist for a more objective point of view about how much you can actually work on improving versus where those perceived incompatibilities actually lie.
Myth #4: Happy couples don’t fight.
Reality: Every relationship experiences conflict, whether that’s a romantic, familial or platonic one. Sure, a certain amount of fighting can be damaging to a relationship, but that doesn’t mean that your relationship should be without conflict or disagreement.
Myth #5: There’s a right way (or frequency with which) to have sex.
Reality: Clinical sexologist and Loveline host Dr. Chris Donaghue speaks of what healthy sexuality looks like, “All consensual sex is healthy, regardless of the form it takes.”
There is a lot of cultural baggage about sexual desire and performance so much so that we tend to experience a lot of anxiety about sex. The reality is there is no one way to define what is “right” sexually. If the behavior is consensual among all involved parties and you feel fulfilled by those interactions then that is what matters most.
The bottom line is that the frequency and type of sex you have is no objective indicator of sexual or relational viability. The most important point is that you and your partner are compatible and enjoy each other sexually, no matter how often you enjoy sex.
Myth #6: You have to date someone for [X amount of time] before living together or getting married.
Reality: There are a variety of circumstances in which couples find their way to marriage and long-term cohabitation. There has yet to be any definitive research that indicates a specific amount of time pre-engagement will lead to a lifetime union.
On the other hand, there are some trends that suggest that dating one to two years before living together and/or getting married will help your chances of long-term success.
Generally, experts recommend this so that you have time to get to know your partner more fully, but there are always exceptions to the rule. Most of us know one couple that met, had a whirlwind romance, and accelerated into commitment with long-term success.
The biggest predictor of relationship success is not time spent together, but a non-scientific combination of self-awareness and insight. If you can bring what you’ve learned about yourself and your needs from previous relationships to your current one then you’re far likely to use that information to work with your partner to more readily resolve conflicts.
Myth #7: Living together before marriage will only end in separation/divorce.
Reality: It’s important to note that being married isn’t the goal for everyone, but for those who seek to have that experience, there is no one right way to make it happen.
Almost half of American couples live together before marriage for varying reasons and lengths of time. This, coupled with the current divorce rate of 40-50%, has caused many people to assume that living together before marriage can increase the chance of divorce down the road.
There may be some truth to this belief, but it’s not the complete picture. To make a more informed decision you have to look closely at the couples individually, their commitment level before living together, and their reasons for living together before marriage. Simply put, it’s complicated and there’s no right way to take your relationship to the next level.
Honest communication is key and if you and your partner are having trouble doing so, a therapist can help provide insight through premarital counseling to help you develop the skills to give your union the best chance to move forward, whether you live together before marriage or not.
Try not to get caught up in other’s views or expectations about your relationships. Defining for yourself what your needs and desires are is an essential part of mental and emotional health. Share your thoughts with your partner, compromise when necessary and you’ll be able to develop and maintain a healthy relationship that works for you.