Friday 15 December 2017

Love stories - how relationship myths can damage a happy relationship

Relationship myths can get in the way of happy and healthy partnerships

Picture posed
Picture posed

I recently watched a fascinating lecture by clinical neuropsychologist, Dr Mario Martinez, in which he broached the issue of compromise in a relationship.

Received wisdom tells us that compromise is the glue that keeps a relationship together, yet Dr Martinez has another idea entirely. Why would you want to compromise, he asks, before using the example of a couple with different interests trying to negotiate how they spend their spare time.

"When you're going for the other person, you're going to resent it and the person who is taking you is going to feel guilty," he points out.

Instead, Dr Martinez advises couples to "create a win-win that supersedes the two and then you collude in joy and do your own thing on your own". (You can check out the rest of the video, which is well worth watching, by searching for 'Martinez Guardians of the Heart' on YouTube.)

Popular culture and psychology has given us plenty of well-intended relationship advice, yet every so often a frontier thinker like Dr Martinez comes along and challenges the status quo.

Maybe a little distance can be healthy? Maybe radical honesty isn't always the best idea. Maybe we should go to bed angry sometimes?

These ideas may not be popular - and they're certainly not one-size-fits-all - but they offer a fresh perspective on some age-old ideas. Here are a few more...

Relationships require effort

Some people believe that the right relationship should be effortless. They think they will be carried along by the strength of their love, just as they think of conflict as a sign that their relationship is falling apart. Those with more realistic expectations think of falling in love as a feeling and staying in love as a choice. "When we love someone our love becomes demonstrable or real only through our exertion - through the fact that for that someone (or for ourself) we take an extra step or walk an extra mile," writes M Scott Peck in The Road Less Travelled. "To the contrary, love is effortful."

There is no such thing as 'Mr Right'

The relationships we enter into are fundamentally mirrors that reflect the relationship we have with ourselves. When we come to terms with this, we begin to realise that we find the best possible partners when we are the best possible version of ourselves - and all relationships, both good and bad, lead us there. Marianne Williamson, who thinks of relationships as 'assignments', believes there is "no Mr Right because there is no Mr Wrong. There is whoever is in front of us, and the perfect lessons to be learned from that person".

Independence is crucial

True love can often be confused with co-dependency by couples who believe that they have to share the same social circle, hobbies and bank account. They don't see relationships as the coming together of two whole people, rather they see them as the union of two halves who, to quote a romcom platitude, 'complete each other'. Gloria Jean Watkins, aka bell hooks, offers some thoughtful advice to people who tend to lose their sense of self in relationships. "Knowing how to be solitary is central to the art of loving," she writes. "When we can be alone, we can be with others without using them as a means of escape."

Arguments can be healthy

We've all met couples who brag about never having had an argument. The subtext, in case you missed it, is that their relationship is more secure and harmonious than yours. Sure, some couples have truly never fought. However, most couples who make this claim are putting their relationship on a pedestal without realising that there's a heavier thud when it eventually encounters a bump. It's worth remembering that healthy conflict - as opposed to the virulent kind - helps set boundaries and establish deeper intimacy. "In a good relationship, people get angry, but in a very different way," says psychologist and relationship researcher, John Gottman. "The 'Marriage Masters' see a problem a bit like a soccer ball. They kick it around. It's 'our' problem."

Of course, too much conflict is never a good thing. Gottman has also found that marriages are more likely to succeed when there is a 5 to 1 ratio of positive to negative interactions. When the ratio approaches 1 to 1, it becomes more likely to end in divorce.

Relationships are learning curves

While women's magazines portray romantic partners as ever-accepting advocates who love us warts and all, spiritual authors think of partners as button-pushers who point out our shortcomings and help us overcome them. "Loving spouses must repeatedly confront each other if the marriage relationship is to serve the function of promoting the spiritual growth of the partners," says M Scott Peck. Marianne Williamson goes even deeper: "Can the purpose of a relationship be to trigger our wounds? In a way, yes, because that is how healing happens; darkness must be exposed before it can be transformed. The purpose of an intimate relationship is not that it be a place where we can hide from our weaknesses, but rather where we can safely let them go."

Love is not synonymous with longevity

All the evidence tells us that relationships tend not to last so then do we grasp onto the pervading myth that the best relationships are the most enduring ones? David Richo pulls no punches when he explores this uncomfortable truth in The Five Things We Cannot Change: "The first given of life is that changes and endings are inevitable for any person, relationship, enthusiasm, or thing. Nothing is perfect, permanently satisfying, or permanently anything. Everything falls apart in time. Every beginning leads to a finale. Built into all experiences, persons, places, and things is a life span. Our relationships pass through phases, from romance through struggle to commitment. Then they end with death or separation."

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