by Jill P. Weber Ph.D: Most long-term relationships go through ups and downs…
It’s easy to romanticize marriage. Once you find your life partner, all will be well in the world. You’ll feel at peace and never be romantically lonely or disappointed again. Then once the reality of long-term commitment sets in, you may feel like there’s something terribly wrong with you or your relationship because your marriage hasn’t lived up to these expectations.
This is why people often don’t get help with their long-term unions. They come to believe that they’ve failed at marriage and are so defeated they start to feel like there’s not point in trying. Most long-term relationships go through ups and downs. It’s important to know what reality looks like so you don’t have to feel like a failure every time it hits. As you accept what you and your partner struggle with, it means you can get help and improve things. Here are 10 myths about healthy marriages:
In a healthy marriage….
1. Myth: You should never feel rejected.
Truth: You are two people with different needs, temperaments and day-to-day fluctuations. You’re going to reject each other at times. What’s important is that you make room for the feelings that might come up as a result and learn to make each other feel better — not worse.
2. Myth: It shouldn’t be hard to feel close to your spouse.
Truth: It’s easy in a long-term union to get into behavioral ruts. Perhaps you watch TV every night on opposite ends of the sofa, eat a meal, or both read your books but all the while you don’t feel emotionally close. We are creatures of habit and comfort. You’ve got to get out of your comfort zone and work to have those intimate conversations. In a long-term union, there will be times you have to work at being close.
3. Myth: We should have the same interests.
Truth: Sure, it really helps to have a few things you enjoy doing with your spouse but these don’t have to be big ticket items. They can be as simple as taking a nightly walk, experimenting with new cooking cuisines, or talking about books or the news. Anything that helps you connect works and often the simple things are the best because they’re easy to do at any time.
4. Myth: We shouldn’t fight.
Truth: Conflict in relationships is unavoidable. Disagreement comes because you see things differently, prioritize differently, or want different things. This makes sense because it would be pretty boring to be married to a replica of yourself that never disagreed. What’s important is to listen, validate and reach a compromise. Sometimes this takes time…
5. Myth: We should both want to make up after a fight.
Truth: Temperaments vary. Some people get over things quickly and others need more time to return to baseline. It doesn’t mean your partner loves you any less if they need time to warm back up to you. What’s important is to know what each of you needs to feel safe reconnecting again.
6. Myth: If we aren’t having sex, we don’t have a “real” marriage.
Truth: Long-term relationships have ups and downs in the sex department as well. What’s important here is to not lose sight of sex. Couples often think if a dry spell has gone on for a while that there is no point in trying. Most couples have dry spells and this can change quickly if both are willing. Also, just being close physically counts too — touching, holding hands, hugging, cuddling.
7. Myth: Going to couples therapy means we have serious issues.
Truth: I see a fair number of couples that feel as if they’re almost at the end of their marriage before making the decision to set up a marital therapy appointment. In fact, it’s extremely helpful to see a therapist when you and your spouse simply feel stuck. Couples therapy is a way to learn tools of coping and communicating so that things don’t get worse and to ward off bad habits. Therapy can help your marital system work more effortlessly; it is not a sign that the marriage is over.
8. Myth: We should be together all of the time.
Truth: Yes, of course, it’s important to feel liked by your partner but healthy people also need their own separate interests. If there’s too much pressure to be together all of the time, then your own individual identities start to wain and you can come to resent one another.
9. Myth: We should agree on politics and religion.
Truth: It’s okay to disagree and even to disagree about big issues. Again, you and your partner are not identical replicas of one another and that can make things more fun. What’s important is to learn how to respectfully communicate and that you both feel heard and valued for your opinions.
10. Myth: Once things are bad, we can’t make them any better.
Truth: When the issues in a marriage go unresolved and go on like that for some time, it’s easy to start to feel stuck. Feeling stuck can leave you feeling depressed and hopeless about improving the situation. Try not to self-defeat, marriages are extremely resilient. If you and your partner are willing, there are ways to start again. A good starting place can be just an agreement between the two of you that you will sit together every night for 30 minutes, no TV or phones, just you and your partner. Another option is reading a marital therapy self-help book or beginning couples therapy.