Psychologists frequently encounter myths about what healthy relationships should look like. Not only are these notions generally wrong, but they also lead people into unhealthy patterns of interacting wtihin their relationships. Expectations are not met, conflict is handled poorly, disappointment, resentment and alienation start to set in.
Below are some of the common myths that people have about relationships ~~ counted by a dose of relationship reality.
1. Don't hurt the other person's feelings.
This myth is extremely common. Another person's actions hurt us and we feel pain and anger, but we don't want to express it for fear of damaging the relationship. So the hurt person keeps silent, internalizes their emotions and emotionally pulls away from the person who hurt them. The relationship grows more distant and the person who cause the original hurt may not even know why or how to address the widening gulf between them. The next time a conflict erupts, the previous hurt may be brought up, which complicates the situation. Now the conflict is about both the old and the new issue.
The reason why people follow this unhealthy, myth-based pattern is because they don't want to be the bearer of bad news, i.e. "You hurt me when you made that remark." We know that the other person will probably feel embarrassed and anxious and may even get angry.
Yet accurate feedback actually improves the health of a relationship. It may not be fun for you to hear that your partner was angry that you spent over budget last week. But now you can talk it over with your partner and either explain ("I had an emergency repair") or apologize (I'm sorry that I didn't resist the urge to get a new gizmo"). The health of the relationship gets stronger, because the two parties know they can work through conflict well.
2. Anger is destructive to a relationship.
This is another common myth which stems from people's unease and uncertainly over appropriately expressing their feelings. They may have lived with or witnessed people who in fits of anger, withdraw and reject each other ~~ which is destructive ~~ or insult, swear and shout ~~ which is also destructive.
However, when people learn to express their anger in an honest and appropriate way, they come to realize that it actually increases the health of their relationship. The conflict is put on the table in a way that can be worked through, rather than stuffed inside or shouted about.
Dr. John Gottman, a psychologist who's studied married couples extensively has corroborated this through his research. In a study of newly weds, he found that wives who expressed more anger in the first year of the relationship wound up being more satisfied with the relationship later on. Of course, the anger has to be expressed appropriately, rather than criticism (You never take out the garbage") or contempt (You're a jerk").
3. Couples divorce because of fights over money.
Nope, not true. It is true that finances are a frequent source of conflict among warring couples, but happily married couples argue over money, a well. It's also true that newly married couples tend to overspend (because they are combining two incomes now) they often find themselves in hot water when the bill arrives ~~ which is also when the sparring starts.
But it's not the fact that there's conflict so much as how the conflict is handled that determines whether a couple stays together or not. Research sujggests that the main cause of divorce is a couple feeling more distant and detached from each other and leading increasingly separate lives.
Nor does having more money reduce the risk of divorce. Just look at how wealthy celebrities are and how often they split up. Again, it is how the couple communicates and connects ~~ especially during times of conflict ~~ that determines whether they stay together or not.
4. The other person should know what I'm feeling.
Women are especially susceptible to accepting this myth, which has its origins in the gender stereotyping typically learned in childhood. Little girls are encouraged to guage how the other person is reacting and little boys are supported in being more task oriented during play.
The truth of the matter is, you can never, know with any accuracy how another person is feeling, unless they explicitly tell you. Even if you yell at someone, you don't know if they will feel fear (I am scared of your yelling), anger (how dare you yell), disgust (you look like an idiot when you yell), indifference (whatever), or amusement ( sure yanked your chain).
Healthy relationships depend on accurately telling another person about your feelings, "I am very angry that you said my project was poorly done in front of the boss at the morning meeting." Then the conflict is aired properly and can be resolved in a healthy way.
There are many other myths about relationships that can cause problems. Some of the other myths are more specific and include : "I have to help them stop drinking", "I have to fix the problem now", and "I want to protect her from bad news." As you work with your counselor, these myths will be exposed. And addressing them head on will help to improve the health of your relationships.