7 Relationship Myths Smart Couples Don’t Fall For

hands-raisedIf you think marriage is hard, raise your hand.

Yep. You and everyone.

Yet, when the going gets rough, it’s as if we develop amnesia about how challenging marriage can be and  suddenly think it should be a walk in the park.

We don’t say, “No big deal. We’ll get through it. All couples struggle.”

Instead, we freak out.

“Oh my God! We’re in trouble!!” we say. “Something must be wrong!”

When faced with ordinary relationship difficulties, some couples end up thinking they’re not cut out for marriage. Others are convinced that they picked the wrong spouse. Many think that they’re the only ones struggling — or, worse, that their marriage is beyond hope.

Back when I was having serious trouble in my marriage, I, too, imagined that other couples were effortlessly thriving. And, unfortunately, very little that I found in the popular media disabused me of that notion. Books and articles and marriage advice talk shows made it seem like there were five or ten simple things we could do to make our marriage fantastic, and I naively assumed that all the wildly successful couples around me were already doing them.

Those who weren’t (like my husband and I) were, presumably, sunk.

Or so it seemed.

The truth is, married life is a challenge for everyone. Without exception. Not just the ill-fated, mismatched, or poorly equipped.

How could it be otherwise? We step into marriage with zero experience and no clear instructions about how best to proceed. True, we come with our good ideas and enthusiasm and the sage advice of others, but every marriage is different and none of us can prepare in advance for the unique challenges we’ll face. The best any of us can do is approach the whole business with an adventurous spirit and make a commitment to put in our best effort. Marriage provides us with plenty of “on the job” training— which, by definition, means that most of our learning will come from our mistakes.

Even so, when those mistakes arise, many of us fall into the trap of believing that something is wrong with our relationship, even though what’s happening is perfectly normal. Challenging, complicated, and perhaps even painful, but normal all the same.

If all our time is spent thinking that the ship of our marriage is sinking, we’re not doing the thing we most need to do: learn how to sail.

How many of these relationship myths have you let steer you off course?

1. Marriage shouldn’t require this much work

It’s amazing how often I hear people question why marriage entails as much work as it does. One commenter on another post that I wrote said that all the talk about having to work hard makes marriage sound dreary and tedious, like a 9-5 job that you hate. Why bother? she said.

Why not? I thought. After all, anything in life that’s worth doing takes effort. Imagine asking why do I have to work so hard in order to be a brain surgeonor a chef… or for that matter, a parent?

The misconception that marriage should be easier than it is keeps people from making an effort when they most need to, which is when things aren’t going well. Why not think if it takes this much work, we need some better tools to address our difficulties? Or, if we have to work this hard, maybe there’s something I’m doing that’s making it even harder.

Better still, if it takes this much work, we’re obviously committed to having a high-quality marriage.

big and small dog2. Maybe we’re just too different

There’s no such thing as being too different. No matter how different two people happen to be. People can be too stubborn, too reactive, and too self-protective to deal effectively with each other, but that’s not because of their differences!

At best, difference challenges our beliefs and it demands that we grow. At worst, it reveals our inflexibility and intolerance and embroils us in conflict. Many will blame their struggles on the fact that their spouse doesn’t see the world exactly as they do, rather than examine their own fear or rigidity, or their sense of entitlement to have things go as they prefer.

Remember: Any two people, no matter how different they are, can have a satisfying marriage —  if they want to.

3. Fighting is a sure sign of trouble

Research has shown that couples who fight are no more unhappy and no more likely to divorce than couples who don’t. In fact people who don’t fight can be having marital troubles as serious, or worse than those who fight tooth and nail. There’s a world of difference between having good problem-solving skills that keep fights within bounds and stuffing things under the rug in the name of peace. Circuitous fights that do not end with repair are exhausting and problematic and erode a couple’s goodwill. But couples whose conflicts lead to deeper understanding, empathy, and reconciliation — no matter how fired-up and loud they may get — report high levels of satisfaction and often consider their fights to be worthwhile.

The belief that fighting is a relationship death knell can lead people to withdraw from their conflicts, leaving their issues unaddressed. They also cause them to worry unnecessarily that about not seeing eye-to-eye. Many will fight about fighting (Why do you have to make such a big deal out of nothing? Why are you getting so angry? Don’t talk to me in that tone of voice!) rather than engage in the valuable and necessary process of working things out.

4. People should marry their soul mate

Okay, look. Maybe you know some people who are convinced that their husband or wife is the one person on earth for them and that they miraculously found each other. In case that’s not you, don’t sweat it. Most of us marry someone who is a combination of positive and negative traits of our parents; a person who, for better or worse, resonates with our learned experience of love growing up in our family.

We pick them, we marry them, and we make them our “person.”

Rather than think there must be some perfect person out there and unfortunately I didn’t marry her, a more realistic (and healthy) notion is this: there are many hundreds, if not thousands, of suitable partners to choose from and we just need one. Whomever we choose, he or she will sometimes push our buttons and sometimes touch our heart.

Boy Giving Pretty Girl A Kiss5- Aren’t we supposed to make each other happy?

There’s a lot more to being happily married than most people imagine. When my husband and I were first starting out, I’d assumed that because we were in love, because we had common values and compatible dreams, we had everything we would need to be happy together. I knew, abstractly, that relationships take work, but I never doubted for a moment that our union would be a happy one.

Most couples have these same assumptions — they come into marriage hoping for a lifetime of love and happiness, despite how little they know about what might give them their best shot at having those things. Many presume that if they choose the right person and do the right things, there’s a pretty good chance that their marriage will be a success.

But marriage is much more difficult than any of us expect and when trouble arrives, our experience of being “happy” in our relationship can take quite a hit.

Many are disappointed that the “shooting-star” feelings they felt in courtship aren’t sustained throughout marriage. Also disappointed are those who’d assumed that having a good marriage would mean that life with their partner would be blissful — in fact, should be blissful  as if being happily married is the same thing as living happily ever after.

Forget about bliss. It’s overrated and fleeting. The key to marital happiness is to figure out how to be happy without needing to be “perfectly” happy. To be happy despite the fact that your spouse snores, or leaves her keys in the front door, or forgets to send in the mortgage check; despite his not always being a good listener or spending way too much time playing Angry Birds.

Remember, happy couples aren’t happy 24/7, and they don’t expect to be. Sometimes they’re driven nuts by some of the things their spouse does. Sometimes they face serious issues that don’t have quick and easy solutions.

I was married many years before I realized that if I wanted to be happy in my marriage I had to figure out how to make peace with  imperfection — in my husband, my marriage and myself. I realized that if the conditions are bad enough we can choose to leave. If we stay, then we might as well figure out how to thrive.

6- The trouble is “Marriage”

It’s amazing how much bad press there is about marriage. People regularly talk about how nearly half of all marriages fail rather than focus on the fifty to sixty percent of marriages that succeed. They say marriage is the end of freedom, the end of romance, and the end of____.  (Fill in whatever it is you love most about sex.)

Then there’s the bounty of mean-spirited jokes: A wedding is a funeral where you smell your own flowers. Marriage is a relationship in which one person is always right and the other is a husband.

People blame marriage as an institution rather than think, Man I’m really not very good at this, or Wow, did I have unrealistic expectations.

Marriage is indeed a tough teacher and we all have plenty to learn.

Young beautiful woman in rubber gloves holding her nose7- The trouble is my spouse

Most people come into my office convinced that their marital problems are caused by their spouse. If he or she weren’t so difficult… stingy… forgetful… foul-tempered…. everything would be fine.

Though they rarely say it outright, many expect that once I’ve heard “both sides of the story” I’ll take their side. Then, at last, they’ll get help with the thing they want most: to get their partner to change.

There’s no denying that many of us struggle with serious, painful issues in our marriages. Infidelity, rage, alcohol, overspending. We have differences in parenting styles and want different things to happen in sex. Maybe we have a partner who has depression or anxiety attacks or chronic pain and refuses to get help. Maybe our partner can’t keep a job.

Like it or not, the only thing we can do is request change, though we have no guarantee of getting it. After all, the only person who can change your partner is your partner, and only you can change you.

Relationship problems consist of two people, only one of whom we can control. Though it may seem frustrating and unfair, our only choice is to focus on ourselves: how we respond and react, how we manage our emotions; the interpretations we make, the conclusions we form, and what we say and don’t say.

No couple can expect to live in a state of perfect harmony or non-stop bliss. Fortunately, good marriages don’t require it. My advice: forget about hoping for soul mates, smooth seas and a spouse who is flawless.

Real marital happiness comes from accepting our limitations and building on our strengths, from knowing that hard times are part of the package and we’re strong and solid enough to deal with them.

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The Surprising Truth About What Makes Happy Couples Happy

Senior couple kiss situation in white isolated backgroundThey make it look easy, don’t they?

You know, those cheerful couples you see chatting away in the grocery line, holding hands in the movie theater; the ones who’ve been married forever and they’ve still got their spark.

Ever wonder, how do they do it? What do they know that I don’t?

Back when I was struggling in my marriage, everyone looked happier than my husband and I. On every street corner, in every cafe, every couple seemed to be radiating rainbows. It was hard to imagine them arguing about the idiotic nonsense that had us going in circles: arguing about how much soap to put in the dishwasher, how to pull dandelions. Arguing about who started the argument.

Maybe the happier couples were more compatible from the outset, I thought. Or they were smarter or luckier when choosing their spouse. Maybe their marriages had come with an instruction book. Maybe they were better able to follow instructions.

Then again, maybe not.

While it’s true that some couples have figured out a thing or two about how to stop arguing or how to not make a federal case over every piddling thing, and some can talk about highly-charged issues without blowing up, it turns out that what makes happy couples happy is something I’d never considered.

The surprising fact about happy couples is that…

They aren’t always happy.

At least not 24/7, jump-for-joy happy. In fact, the most successful couples I know will openly admit that they drive each other Are you crazy womannuts.

And not just a little nuts.

We’re talking fantasies of living in two separate houses, or their spouse taking a job in Siberia or being abducted by aliens.

Some have considered options more sinister than these.

What’s more, they’re willing to talk about it in a way that doesn’t make either of them want to lock up the steak knives.

Happy couples don’t always make “I-statements” or start every argument with a gratitude. They don’t feel Fourth-of-July-fireworks each and every time they make love — nor do they expect to.

Sometimes they exchange heated words or slam doors or roll their eyes in frustration. Sometimes they go to bed angry or one of them sleeps on the couch.

Sometimes they look exactly like unhappy couples — at least on the outside.

The difference, I’ve discovered, is what they do on the inside.

Happy couples:

1. Take struggle in stride. When faced with their inevitable difficulties, happy couples don’t freak out. They don’t say, “Our relationship is too difficult.” “We’re incompatible.”  “Let’s get a divorce.”

Rather than run from their struggles or protest their existence, they take a let’s roll up our sleeves stance, knowing that they’re in it for the long haul, knowing that relationship problems are bound to arise and they don’t clear up without effort.

2. Accept that disappointment is inevitable. As couples, we have to balance the seemingly contradictory notions that it’s our job to try to have what we want in our relationship while knowing full well that it’s not possible to have everything. It’s fine to set high expectations for ourselves, while at the same time remembering that even the best partner will sometimes let us down. We don’t have to like being disappointed, we just have to deal with it gracefully.

iStock_000005938152Small3. Safeguard their relationship. If you think of your relationship as something precious, something that comes along once in a lifetime, then it makes sense to behave in ways that nurture and protect it.

Happy couples keep in mind that their actions and words have an impact, so they carefully consider them. They know, for example, that in a fight they can raise their voice, but not swear; they can be as grumpy as they want, but it crosses a line if they’re mean.

If I use the word stubborn, my husband feels criticized. But he doesn’t mind it at all if I say he’s being persistent. And he knows about me that unless the house is on fire, I’m not willing to talk about anything upsetting before bed.

Being the guardian of one’s relationship doesn’t mean tip-toeing around important issues or resentfully complying just to keep peace. It means making it your intention to be as kind and respectful as possible, knowing that doing so builds trust and good will.

4. Fight without hate. It’s one thing to be angry at your spouse for something he or she did. It’s another to express your upset in the form of contempt. For some people it can be challenging to separate the two: to condemn the action without condemning the actor.

If you have a fighting style where you fight to the death, if you go after your partner intending to hurt, keep in mind that the casualties of your war will be one or both of you — and possibly your marriage.

5. Know how to repair. No relationship will be free of difficulty or conflict. And no matter how well-meaning we are as partners, none of us will be a candidate for sainthood. Given that, it’s essential that we learn to repair.

While there’s no one-size-fits-all approach, repair begins with one person moving toward the other with an intention to heal. Effective couples are able to both apologize and forgive and to own up to the part they played in the difficulty.

6. Accept that, no matter how hard they work at it, some issues will never resolve. Research has shown that 69% of marital conflicts are unresolvable. No matter how we approach them. No matter how nicely we ask.

My first thought upon learning this was, “What a relief! Followed by, “Does this mean that my husband will never hang up his coat?”

Every couple will have their perpetual conflicts, based on the fundamental differences between them — differences in their personalities and their preferences and the ways they view the world. Differences that will, unfortunately, never cease to exist.

Rather than take an “oh, no!” attitude when their recurring struggles arise, happy couples take an “oh, this again,” attitude. Instead of repeatedly (and unsuccessfully) struggling to agree, they acknowledge the unresolvable nature of the problem and approach it with acceptance and surrender, and best of all, humor.

If you’re struggling in your marriage, take heart. No matter how dismal things have gotten, no matter if you’ve got three wheels off the edge, if you want to have a more satisfying marriage, give it a go. The difference between unhappy couples and happy ones may not be as dramatic as you think.

Why not choose one thing on this list? Why not start today?

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9 Crucial Questions to Ask Yourself Before Calling the Divorce Attorney

contemplating-divorce-300x199

None of us gets married thinking that five, ten, even twenty years down the line we’d be so frustrated or miserable that we’d be considering divorce. Most of us step into marriage with hope and enthusiasm, determined to have ours be a marriage that lasts.

But marriage is difficult in ways few of us are prepared for. And rarely do we have all the tools we need for success. Nor do we have a guidebook or a road map to make the journey easier.

Some couples manage to navigate the rough patches. Other couples get stuck and are unable to move forward. For some, their struggles constitute deal-breakers.

Clients often ask me, “How can I be sure?” hoping for a checklist or a set of clear guidelines that will help them decide whether or not to divorce. Many have asked me to tell them outright whether I think there’s hope for their marriage or if it’s time to get out.

My answer is always the same: Divorce is a personal decision and only you can know what’s right for you.

Unless you are in physical danger and need to immediately leave your relationship in order to keep yourself safe, I suggest you press the pause button and consider the following questions:

1. Do I want a divorce or do I want a better marriage with the person I’ve picked?

There’s a big difference between an unhappy marriage and an un-salvageable one. Couples often tell me they’re contemplating divorce when what they’re facing are ordinary — though difficult — relationship challenges that they have been unable to resolve. Divorce is a radical step to take when what you’re seeking is change.

2. Have I sought good quality help? And have I given it my all?

Not all couples therapy is created equal. If you’re seeing a couples therapist and you’re not making progress, it’s not necessarily a sign that it’s time to divorce. If you think that your marriage is worth fighting for and therapy isn’t helping, find another therapist to work with before calling it quits.

And never, ever, let a therapist tell you that you’re beyond help.

Remember, however, that even the most skilled marital therapist cannot step in and miraculously “fix” your marriage. Nor will he or she fix what you think is wrong with your spouse. Growth and change require effort and commitment on your part. I firmly believe that if two people want to work through their difficulties they can, but only if they’re willing to put in the necessary effort.

Stress3. Have we been under such severe stress that the relationship has been strained to the breaking point?

Every relationship will have its share of stressors. Sometimes the stressors are so overwhelming that everything else is completely overshadowed by them. When faced with stressors such as the loss of a child, financial ruin, protracted illness, or infertility, the rates of divorce skyrocket to as high as 80%.

Relationships are a lot like houses. When exposed to a small earthquake, the structure can weather the shaking with little or no damage. But in a 9.0 earthquake, even the best engineered structure will crack.

In a highly stressed system, there’s little reserve and therefore little resilience. Even small difficulties can feel insurmountable.

Before choosing divorce, consider getting help with whatever practical issues you’re facing and the grief and loss you both feel.

4. Have I seriously looked at my role in our difficulties?

No one is perfect. No matter what the issues are, no matter how difficult a partner we’ve picked, we all contribute, in some way, to the problems we have. Perhaps we’re provocative, or dismissive, or we don’t keep our word. Perhaps we’ve been unwilling to speak up, or be honest, or tackle our marital difficulties head on. Maybe we’re too quick to flare or to blame.

Taking responsibility for your part isn’t the same thing as being fully at fault. No matter what’s gone on, you’re not responsible for your partner’s behaviors and responses. You are, however, responsible for yours.

Accurately assessing your part in the mess will help you identify behavior changes that might improve your marriage enough that you’ll decide to stay put and work on them.

5. Was this whole thing a giant mistake or have we just run into trouble too challenging for our skill set?

Now and again I meet couples whose relationship wasn’t good from the start. Several were arranged marriages and others were entered into so hastily that the partners barely knew what they were getting themselves into.

If this is your situation and you think you want to divorce, take note of what did and didn’t work in your marriage and use what you’ve learned to help inform your future choices.

6. If sex is in the forefront of my thoughts about divorce, have I been courageous in my attempts to deal with our sexual difficulties? Have I spoken up? Have I taken risks? Have I been willing to seek help?

Whether the problems are about the lack of sex or difficulties with the sex that you’re having, many sexual problems can be remedied with the right kind of help.

No couple is so sexually “compatible” that they have all the same inclinations and interests, the same ideal frequency and a desire to always say yes at the exact same time. And no couple has sex that’s as seamless as it looks in the movies.

People too readily think that they’re sexually incompatible, that it’s hopeless, when the problem is more likely one of poor communication and a need for more resilience, flexibility and a capacity to be generous.

Try talking about what’s good and what’s problematic, what you like and what you wish for, even though the conversation may be uncomfortable. Be open to your partner’s feedback and consider ways you might do something new. Offer suggestions and solutions instead of complaints.

Before leaving your marriage due to sexual difficulties, why not reach out for help?

cd8d63e71ae983f3a5953b75d75cfa647- Are my standards for marriage (and my spouse) impossibly high?

I’m not suggesting people “settle” for scraps or bad treatment but I do suggest questioning the expectation of having both shooting stars and stability, having a high-powered, driven, high wage earner who loves to vacuum, can fix the screen door and whip up a five course meal while holding the baby.

8- Is there someone else?

When dealing with an affair or flirtation, an online romance, or a serious “outside” relationship, it can be quite challenging to figure out how to proceed.

You might ask yourself if the affair is a way of sidestepping unresolved issues in your marriage. Not all affairs are about serious marital trouble, but many are.

Trying to compare courtship to marriage is like comparing apples to oranges (better yet, passion fruit to oranges). Marriage, with its repetitive struggles and its everyday tedium can look tired and tarnished when held up against the sparkle and magic of a new relationship.

Note that 75% of affair relationships don’t last. So before tossing your marriage aside, you might consider putting some fresh energy into your marriage and see where that goes.

9- Do I still love my spouse? Love doesn’t heal all but sometimes love is hard to find under the sludge pile of anger and resentment, overwork, parenting and everyday stresses and struggles.

If there’s even a spark or ember left, it’s worth asking yourself, “can I re-ignite it?”
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What The Manicurist Said: Collective Wisdom For The Bride-to-Be

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It was a typical Saturday at the small neighborhood salon where I regularly go for my manicure and pedicure: a bevy of women giving and getting haircuts, perms and manicures, chatting in an upbeat banter over the background hum of classical music and blow dryers.

Across the room from where I was waiting, two young women sat side-by-side under a pair of hairdryers, giggling and pointing as they flipped through a dog-eared copy of Modern Bride.

Continue reading

10 Dumb Relationship Issues You Need To Quit Getting Worked-Up About

young businesswoman

Raise your hand if your spouse does something that drives you totally bonkers.

The wet towel on the floor. The toilet seat left up. The kitchen scissors that never end up back in the drawer.

Marriage is chock full of these petty irritations. Sometimes we joke about them. Sometimes we gnash our teeth over them.

Still, most of us would agree that putting the empty orange juice container back in the fridge is hardly worth getting ourselves all in a twist.

But, what is?

The mortgage payment mailed late?
The milk left out to spoil?
Consistent lateness?
A bad attitude?

Maybe.

Then again, maybe not. Continue reading

Why “Good Enough” Marriages Are Actually Great!

Cute couple in love with smiley, red heart and hugging.February is the month that relationship books hit the bookshelves, and every day brings a new research study or feature article asking the question, “How can a couple best keep love alive?” Continue reading