We learn about relationships from our parents (who are more likely to be divorced than together), from the media (where Prince Charming originated via Fables comic book), and from what people show us of their own relationships (Facebook vacation pics, anyone?).
This less-than-scientific process of cobbling together relationship theory then creates our belief system of what good relationships look like and what we should expect from our partners. It's not exactly an ideal breeding ground for relationship success. Below is a list of eleven common beliefs that will, at best, set you up for disappointment, and more likely will result in your relationship hitting a wall.
1. Good relationships shouldn't require work. Good relationships are the hardest work imaginable - mostly because they require us to work on ourselves. You can't be a fucked up individual in a good relationship and, well, healthy individuals aren't in fucked up relationships.
2. Fighting is a sign of a bad relationship. Fighting is a sign of a normal relationship where neither partner has well-developed conflict resolution skills. Every healthy couple has disagreements. The idea, however, is to express and resolve disagreements in a way that promotes understanding. Couples that are afraid to express differences of opinion or who avoid disagreements actually worry me more than those who fight because it tells me that they lack the trust and safety needed to speak their truth.
3. Jealousy is a sign that your partner loves you. Nothing is less sexy than a jealous partner and nothing is hotter than a secure one. Jealousy is a sign of insecurity and it has absolutely nothing to do with an expression of love. A jealous person has been jealous with past partners and will be jealous with future partners. And nope, there's no sane way of earning the trust of a jealous person. It becomes a crazy dynamic whereby the jealous partner gets to say when (or if) trust has been earned, creating (either consciously or unconsciously) a power imbalance that could go on indefinitely. No bueno.
4. "You can't have everything," or "You've got to pick your battles." This is the mantra of people who want you to settle for less than you deserve. I've been accused of being too optimistic, but I believe you can have it all. Can you have it all your way all the time? No. This isn't kindergarten. It's called a partnership because you're intended to partner with another person which is impossible without negotiation and compromise. But I believe that if you have to give up a part of yourself to be in a relationship, that's too high a price.
5. "The relationship will strengthen after you get married, have the baby, [insert more b.s. here]." People don't change for the better under periods of transition or stress. They regress. Furthermore, research shows that happiness decreases with every child that a couple has. Which is not to say that you won't be closer after making it through a life transition. It's just to say that you should determine if your partner is someone you can live with before you commit to the relationship and definitely before you bring any children into the relationship. Think of your partner as an item on the sales rack: No Refunds.
6. If your partner loves you, he/she will change for you. Dumb. Very dumb. It's about as accurate as saying that if you love your partner, you'll change for them. Which you won't. So don't expect it.
7. If you're really in love, passion never fades. Passion is so complicated - it's not even close to a correlation of your attraction to your partner. Passion dips at times during the month, during the year, during your life, during stress, during exhaustion, and during overwhelm. Life is overwhelming, folks. Passion ebbs and flows. Do what you have to do to keep it alive in your relationship, but don't draw a conclusive prognosis during times when it's low. Ask anyone in a long-term relationship if the passion remains the same throughout.
8. When you're with the right person, they know what you need and feel. Only in the movies. In real life, we have to communicate because our partners aren't mind readers. And as disappointing as that is, it's also liberating. Because it means that you don't have to wait around for a telepathic person to come into your life. And if you decide to wait for that person, please, don't hold your breath.
9. "It IS/ISN'T meant to be." Nothing is either meant to be or not meant to be. A successful relationship is a direct reflection of the amount of work that both partners are willing to engage in.
10. Being in love means being happy - all the time. I am not happy all of the time. Neither is my wife, Steph. Since we began dating (10+ years ago), I don't think I've ever not been in love with her, but sometimes she annoys the shit out of me. Sometimes I want to be alone. Sometimes she hurts my feelings. It's all part of life. For me, happiness comes from being able to tell her (appropriately) that I'm annoyed or that my feelings are hurt or that I need space. My ability to ask for what I need (and my confidence that my needs will be respected) is what makes me happy. Also, those negative moments make up a small percentage of our time together. For the most part, she's my favorite person to be with. Try not to hurl.
11. We should be able to fix our relationship ourselves. Speaking of hurling, this is the most hurl-worthy myth of all. It's riddled with unfair judgment and it induces shame. When I get a cavity, I don't pull my power drill out expecting to fix it myself (and as a lesbian, I've got several). I don't highlight my own hair. I pay my niece to put my wardrobe together (don't get me started on how fashion challenged I am). I delegate to those who specialize in solving whatever my problem is. But when it comes down to relationships, there's a fantasy that people should be able to fix their own problems. Want to fix your own problem when you're audited by the IRS? I didn't think so.
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