Who doesn’t love a Hollywood romance? As much as I enjoy escapist fantasy, I also understand there is a wide chasm between Tinseltown’s version of “truth” and “reality.”
People are complicated. Relationships are muddy. If you unknowingly cling to “myths,” you may make bad choices. Worse, you may deny yourself the opportunity to experience real (messy) love.
Relationship therapist Aimee Hartstein, LCSW and I speak transparently about love. In writing our 10-article series about heartbreak, we felt it incumbent upon us to shed light on falsehoods that often leave people feeling like “failures.” With a more realistic set of expectations, you’ll be guaranteed a better chance at a happy and productive relationship.
The 10 untruths are as follows:
1. I will be happy once I am in a relationship/married/pregnant.
Happiness is much less predicated on external circumstance than a positive mental attitude (and gratitude for all of life’s blessings). Make a mental decision to be your best every…single…day. As said best by James Oppenheim, “A foolish man seeks happiness in the distance; the wise grows it under his feet.”
2. I will instantly know when I meet “The One.”
“People who look for ‘a sign’ often miss out on wonderful opportunities,” said Aimee the relationship therapist. “Many of the happiest relationships spring out of unlikely circumstances, including long friendships where chemistry was not immediately present. Remain open to possibilities and you might be surprised about the person with whom you fall in love.”
3. The right relationship is easy.
No matter how wonderful your partner, good relationships (especially over time) require work. You will forgive big hurts. You will work to create romance and a connection. You will speak kindly when you feel like screaming.
Growing in service to the relationship may mean exhibiting empathy, patience and generosity when you feel like throwing in the towel. The payoff to all this diligence and self-sacrifice? You will grow spiritually by leaps and bounds.
4. Happy couples don’t fight.
“This myth is incredibly damaging,” said Aimee the relationship therapist. “The absence of disagreement means either one or both people are swallowing their own needs, failing to set boundaries, and building in resentment. A lack of disagreement should not be the goal. Instead, healthy couples must aim to fight fair. They do so to move the relationship forward and not for sport.”
5. All we need is love.
Plenty of couples “in love” are completely mismatched. A relationship with the right person is much better than one with any person.
Pick a partner who is kind and generous. Find someone with compatible values and financial habits. Watch for red flags--untreated addictions, character flaws, or a propensity towards jealous or controlling behavior. Love grows when each person recognizes that they are responsible for their individual happiness.
6. My partner is my everything. We should spend all our free time together.
All too often, dissatisfied couples disappear into a black hole unto themselves.
Conversely, happy couples create a vibrant world filled with friends, family, and outside hobbies. When you have a variety of sources to fill your emotional needs, you’ll be much less likely to put burdensome pressure on your partner. So, go ahead and make a date with your girlfriend…it will strengthen your romantic partnership.
7. Happy couples have sex [x] times a week.
“As long as each partner feels their needs are being fulfilled, there is no magic number to the amount of sex a couple should be having,” said Aimee. “Many people are perfectly content in a low-sex partnership. It’s a personal choice.”
8. My soul mate will automatically understand what I need and want.
Communication is the cornerstone of productive relationships. If you’re the silent type, commit to working diligently to voice your thoughts (lest you drown in unmet expectations and a sea of resentment.) Couples must talk—to establish boundaries, give each other clues as to how to “win,” and set priorities.
9. Getting married (or having a baby) will save this relationship.
“If you and your partner are at each other’s throats, trust me, a deeper psychological and financial commitment will only add fuel to the fire,” said Aimee the relationship therapist. “Piling bad decision upon bad decision not only prolongs the inevitable, but may make the break up all the more complicated.”
10. If I work hard enough, I can make this relationship work.
A long relationship does not necessarily equal a successful relationship. A breakup may be the best solution for a couple who is truly incompatible. Plus, if approached with honesty, kindness and empathy, both partners are now free to find someone who truly makes them happy.
“Hours and hours of work cannot save a relationship between incompatible people,” said Aimee. “That time and energy is better spent on understanding and improving yourself so that you can make better choices—from a much more self-empowered place—the next time around.”