As a therapist I see numerous relationships that are impacted negatively by the inaccurate myths that are thrown at us from the media, Facebook, porn, romance books, religion, trying-to-be-helpful parents or friends…
With the numerous inaccurate and negative messages out there that create harmful myths I want to help you re-examine what is good and what isn’t when it comes to sustainable relationships. Here are five of those myths that I see bubble up frequently that I want you to consider if they have shown up in your own relationship.
Myth #1: If it takes work then maybe we are in the wrong relationship
Although I LOVE the Beatles, their song “Love is All You Need” emphasizes the common myth that love is what sustains and maintains a relationship. And that you shouldn’t have to work on the relationship if you have enough love for each other.
Many couples come into my office to get help when the honeymoon phase has worn off and when the ease of being in relationship ebbs away. They notice things like sex not happening as often or spontaneously, the showering your partner with flowers becoming perhaps minimal or nonexistent, and the late night talks until your eyes are barely open is getting replaced with early to bed to make it to work on time. It’s at this part of the relationship, the after-the-honeymoon phase, that many think they are in the wrong relationship or the love is gone because they now have to work on the relationship.
Working on your relationship doesn’t mean you both don’t love each other or are in the wrong relationship. Although the honeymoon phase love is hormone driven and may seem like that smitten feeling will last and keep you together, long-term committed love that is sustainable needs a little help with a friend: intentionality. Love + Intentionality = Sustainable Relationship. It’s all about intentionality - choosing to do the things that will keep you together to sustain your love for each other rather than depending on love itself to do the work and hold the entire weight.
Quote I hear many clients mention things like “My past relationships were not long-term so we mostly stayed in that honeymoon phase. I never knew there was an after-phase!
Myth #2: If a relationship looks lovey dovey on the outside that must mean it’s perfect
Looking at Facebook or having an interaction with another couple can trigger the thought that “omg they have the perfect relationship”. Unfortunately this can then lead to judgement and criticism of your own relationship thinking they have an effortless relationship and that “if they can’t keep their hands off each other or seem to never fight, what’s wrong with us?”
It’s easy to forget that when you look at social media like Facebook it is often the “highlight reel” of the relationship. Those wonderful smiling pictures from a couple’s vacation in Greece doesn’t show that on the third night in they had a frustrating fight. Or maybe that couple you see kissing and snuggling up at the movies hadn’t been physically close with each other in months. It’s that whole idea of you don’t see what goes on behind closed doors. Sure there are couples that what you see on the outside matches what is behind closed doors but you need to be careful not to assume this is the case and then judge your own relationship as a result. There’s always trials and tribulations and effort that goes into a relationship. Stay in your own lane and don’t compare to others.
Myth #3: My partner should know what I need - isn’t it obvious?!
Unfortunately knowing what you like and need and then sharing it with your partner is not an essential skill that is taught. What education we get instead is the perpetuated myth in movies that convey that conversations around needs aren’t necessary and things like sex “just happens”. There’s the look, passionate kissing, a quick sex montoge, and then the collective sigh scene at then end. Rarely, or I would say never, is there a demonstration of a conversation where the couple is talking about wants and needs.
Many clients I have helped have exclaimed: “well, if I have to tell him what I need that would make it less genuine! He should know! I want him to want to do it”. There is somehow this idea that if we have to ask for what we need and the person responds, it makes it less genuine. Think of a mother-daughter relationship. If a kid comes up to her mom and says “mommy mommy I want a hug!” and then the mother gives a big hug, does that mean it’s not authentic from the mother? No. Does it meant the kiddo is “needy?” no. You NEED to advocate for your needs because your partner is not a mind-reader and your need are vital to a sustainable relationship because it helps you feel loved.
Myth #4: There is something wrong with me and my relationship if I don’t want to jump my partner and have sex when I get home
For many relationships the beginning is a lot more hot and heavy and sex is more spontaneous and frequent than when the honeymoon sparkle starts to wear off. Remember from Myth #1 that this doesn’t mean you don’t love your partner. Instead, it’s your body’s natural progression to committed relationship. Hormones run the show in the beginning, which allows Desire in the brain and Arousal in the body to go from zero to ten with little to no effort. In a long-term committed relationship it is spontaneous desire that lessens and the need for creating intentional desire raises. The lack of, or inconsistent, spontaneous intimacy in a relationship doesn’t mean you are doomed or that you don’t love your partner. Instead you just can’t rely on those hormones to create that intimacy.
Myth #5: Successful Sex is all about Penetration and Orgasm
Movies, porn etc. perpetuate this myth over and over and over. It’s one of the biggest mindsets that trip people up because it creates so much pressure. The expectation that “successful” sex and physical connection means you have to have orgasm and penetration causes many women to avoid contact with their partners. Thoughts pop up like “ I don’t want to lean into that hug he’s giving me because I don’t want to give him the impression that I want to have sex with him right now” or “I want to connect but I don’t necessarily want to go to penetration or orgasm so I’m just going to say no”. This pressure of expectations creates an all-or-nothing mindset that perpetuates a cycle of intimacy avoidance.
Instead, a healthy and sucessful sexual relationship is all about the buffet of sharing pleasure, where orgasm and penetration is mixed in with other pleasurable activities like naked cuddling and making out on the couch. You don’t need orgasm and penetration to have “sucess”, rather it’s the connecting and shared pleasure that makes the experience. Navigating the all-or-nothing mindset and negotiating intimacy is something I’ll talk about more in next weeks blog!
Key Things to Remember:
Love + Intentionality = A Sustainable Relationship
Don’t compare your relationship to others - the highlight reel isn’t always real
Communicate your wants and needs
The ebb of spontaneous desire doesn’t mean the love is gone
Successful sex is about shared pleasure, not penetration and orgasm