A Relationship that is going well can be a safe haven from a stressful day and world. A Strong relationship can help someone feel soothed after a stressful event, and this helps a person to emotionally reset and face the world. 

However, a relationship fraught with challenges can instead be one of the most significant sources of stress in a person’s life. When a relationship is not going well, a person can feel that their world is turned upside down. Life’s adversities can be so much harder to face.

The way that relationships can help or hinder us may be why relationship stress is one of the most common reasons people come to therapy. Individuals often come to therapy to help them cope with a stressful relationship. They may also be trying to decide whether to stay in or leave a relationship.

In couples therapy, people come in with various concerns, usually when they are near a breaking point. Quite often, couples have recurring arguments that they struggle to resolve. Some individuals and couples are trying to sort out whether they can move forward in their relationship or not. 

For some couples, just about anything can cause an argument. For instance, a couple might be fighting about differences in how they want to spend their time. They may also fight over their relationship with in-laws, money or how to parent. A couple may also be dealing with infidelity. When conflicts arise, it is not uncommon for each individual to have a very different account of what actually happened. 

It can take up a lot of time and energy sorting through past and current arguments. Both individuals and novice couples therapists can easily focus on all the details. 

Getting bogged down in arguments and details can lead people to lose sight of underlying core issues. Without getting to the core issues, it is more challenging to figure out how to move forward.

It is essential to step back rather than get sidetracked by details or even specific arguments. Try to refocus on shifting unhelpful perspectives that are not serving you or your relationship. In addition, it is also important to take actions that may help lead you to be the kind of partner you want to be. 

By changing your perspective and committing to actions that reflect the kind of partner you want to be, you’ll be more likely to have the kind of relationship you want.

It’s all about perspective:

The first thing to consider is whether you or your partner subscribe to unhelpful relationship myths. 

Recognizing the unrealistic beliefs you hold is important.

relationship

Having unrealistic assumptions about your relationship will undoubtedly lead to frustration and disappointment. 

What are some specific relationship myths that are important to look out for? 

1) The myth that there is such thing as a perfect partner

Consider that there is no perfect person or partner. When people believe there is one perfect person or “soul mate,” they will be even more disappointed when their partner disappoints them. 

Some people spend a lot of time daydreaming about their perfect partner. They fantasize about the partner they wish they had. At the same time, they dwell on their partner’s perceived shortcomings. They spend a lot of time and energy thinking about how much better life would be if only their partner would change. 

If you frequently dwell on all the changes you wish your partner would make, consider how this affects you. How much disappointment, frustration, and anger does this create for you?

The idea is not to just accept any behaviour from your partner. 

What is important is to consider your own internalized beliefs about Your partner. For instance, what do you believe about how your partner should or shouldn’t behave or what your relationship ‘should’ be like? 

Are the judgements and expectations you hold serving or harming your relationship?

2) The myth that true love should be “easy” or love should always make you happy. 

Consider that long-term relationships take effort to sustain. This makes sense when you think about the endless array of things that there is to disagree over. 

There are two individuals in each couple. What are the odds that two individuals (if they are true to their own needs and desires) agree on all matters? 

Couples can disagree over feeling differently about things or having different interests. Couples can also have different expectations, differences in communication styles, and different desires. Couples may have different standards, different habits, and different relationships with family and friends. The list of possible differences is endless. 

Sometimes, people become convinced that things would be easy if only their partner were more compatible. The reality is, no matter how similar or compatible two people are, there are bound to also be differences. 

Because there are always differences, it’s important to recognize that long-term relationships take compromise. Sustainable relationships require acceptance of differences. This is not always easy. Meaningful lasting relationships are in fact not easy. 

People who expect their relationship to be easy are bound to be disappointed. They may also be more likely to leave a relationship when things become challenging. 

Consider that a rewarding, lasting relationship is worth the time and effort it will take to build. Although some partnerships indeed require less effort, all lasting relationships take effort. 

Effort means keeping a commitment to act in the relationship’s best interest, accepting some differences, and behaving in line with values such as honesty and respect. 

3) The myth that your partner can complete you. 

Many great movies have hinged on the idea of “true love” and that a person’s partner has the potential to make them whole. Although this can make for entertaining movies, this idea is very problematic in real life.

People who expect their partner to complete them or fully fulfill them are likely to face all sorts of relationship problems, not to mention disappointment. The idea that one’s partner can complete them can lead a person to be more needy and fearful of being alone. 

When a person becomes too dependent on their partner, this can put pressure on the other partner and strain the relationship. Too much strain often leads to relationship breakdown, or at the least, relationship dissatisfaction and conflict. 

To help build a strong, lasting relationship, it is important to find a balance between relying on your partner and being able to support or rely on yourself. In a healthy relationship, both people compliment each other, but they can also function independently of one another. 

For some people, self-reliance can be very challenging. This is when it can be important to work towards being more supportive and nurturing of yourself so that you don’t feel like you need a partner to complete you. 

If you tend to subscribe to the myth that you need a partner to complete you, consider reading the book ‘You Are The One You Are Waiting For’ by Richard Swartz. 

If shifting this perspective seems impossible, consider IFS (Internal Family Systems) either with a therapist or through a self-therapy workbook. IFS can help you heal the parts of you that feel inadequate or unworthy to get in touch with your core Self. 

Each person has a core Self who can take care of more vulnerable parts of yourself. Your core Self will naturally know that you don’t need another person to fulfill or complete you. 

Living your life more in touch with your core Self can free you up to find fulfillment in relationships without feeling unfilled in the absence of a relationship. 

4) The myth of everlasting love

Who doesn’t like the idea of everlasting love? No one is saying that a relationship can’t last. Relationships certainly can last, and they can become more robust and even more satisfying over time. However, if you believe that ‘love’ can last indefinitely, it may be essential to examine what you mean by ‘love.’

If you define ‘love’ by an emotional state, such as feeling intensely attracted to a partner, and you expect ‘love’ to last, you may be disappointed. Love, defined as an emotional state, is problematic because feelings don’t last. 

Think about some of the most intense emotional states you have had. Whether positive emotions like excitement and joy or negative emotions like sadness or fear, emotions change. Emotions are dynamic, and they ebb and flow just like the weather. It doesn’t stay stormy or beautiful forever. Emotions are always changing, and this also applies to the emotions we feel in our relationships. 

Even in strong, satisfying and lasting relationships, feelings are constantly changing. A person can feel extremely happy with their partner one moment and then disappointed, hurt or angry in another moment.

When we think of romantic relationships, we often think about the early phases of a relationship where a person feels intensely attracted to their partner. Maybe they can’t stop thinking about them and have intense physical sensations when close to them. We often refer to this phase of a relationship as ‘the honeymoon phase.’

In general, for most couples, the honeymoon phase lasts an average of six to eighteen months (Harris, 2009). People who think or expect that ‘love’ feelings should last forever may blame the lessening of those feelings on their partner or the relationship. 

Some people continually leave relationships as soon as those feelings subside. For those people, love won’t last because they will not be able to sustain a long-term relationship if they leave when their emotions change. 

The expectation of ‘love’ means strong feelings, and the resulting disappointment when that expectation isn’t fulfilled leads to relationship breakdown.

If you tend to subscribe to the idea that love means intense, lasting feelings, consider stepping back and reevaluating; how realistic is this mindset?

If this disappoints you or bursts your bubble, think again. Consider that loving, meaningful and close relationships usually only fully develop once the honeymoon phase is over. This is because only once the honeymoon phase is over will each person truly see who their partner is. 

When each person can come to see the other as they really are, there is an opportunity for a genuine intimate, lasting relationship. Seeing past intense physical attraction and superficialities allows for developing a deeper, more meaningful kind of ‘love.’ 

Love becomes less about a feeling (although feelings are still involved) and more about the attachment bond. Love also becomes about what each individual does to strengthen or weaken the attachment bond.

The idea that each person in a relationship can either strengthen or weaken their bond is vital to the longevity of a relationship. For this reason, start to shift away from thinking about love as a feeling and instead start to think about love as an action. Unlike feelings, actions that strengthen the bond and contribute to your feeling of being in love are within your control.

Part 2 of this relationship series will get into the actions you can take to strengthen your relationship.

But first, as a recap from part 1 on perspectives that people have that may interfere with having a satisfying and lasting relationship, consider the following:

  •  Which of the above myths do you find yourself subscribing to? 
  •  Does your perspective get you closer to or further away from the kind of relationship you want for yourself?
  •  When you focus on what is wrong with your partner or relationship what happens to your mood and feelings about your relationship?
  •  When you continue to dwell on your partner’s flaws or shortcomings, what impact does this have on your relationship? In particular, what impact does this focus have on the actions you either take or won’t take to improve your relationship?

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