Myth One: “Happy Couples Don’t Have Conflict.”
One of the most common myths people believe is that peace and happiness can only exist in a relationship if disagreement is non-existent. This myth could not be more untrue. Think of your relationship like a volcano – the more and more lava (conflict) that is allowed to build up, the more likely it is that you will have an eruption (a fight that culminates from unresolved disagreements that did not get processed with your partner).
Lack of communication about conflict does not equate to lack of conflict!
Also, consider this: do you want to agree with your partner about every detail in life? Doubtful; you became attracted to them (and they to you!) because of the unique attributes they contribute to the relationship. Further, because you are individual beings with separate histories and experiences, it is impossible to be of one mind on every issue, large or small.
Conflict in and of itself is not what causes problems in relationships. Instead, it is the way conflict is handled that helps or hurts the partnership. John Gottman, arguably one of the most well-renowned researchers and contributors to understanding relationships, has shown in his decades of research that there are four painful and ineffective ways to resolve conflict. He has coined these forms of conflict resolution as The Four Horsemen. These four ways of ineffective communication are criticism (verbally attacking your partner’s behaviors), contempt (attacking your partner’s personhood/character), defensiveness (assigning blame to others), and stonewalling (physically and/or emotionally disconnecting yourself from your partner). These forms of communication not only prevent you and your partner from finding a solution to your conflict but also drive a deeper wedge between you. You may have noticed that stonewalling, a means by which someone avoids conflict (and the root of this myth), is detrimental to a relationship!
Fortunately, Gottman also recognized what can be done instead of these Horsemen to more effectively process your conflict with your partner. Rather than criticize your partner and make commentary about them, express how you feel. If you tend to say hurtful things when in conflict, try instead to show love and appreciation for your partner in times of conflict. Should you struggle with blaming your partner or other external factors for mistakes, instead, recognize and express what you can own and take responsibility for in your relationship. And finally, rather than blocking out your partner indefinitely, make a conscious effort to de-escalate your mood and be sure to return to your partner to continue healthy conflict resolution.
Remember: it’s not if you have conflict, but how you have conflict.
Myth Two: “Sexuality/Sensuality Are Optional in a Good Relationship.”
Let’s face it: we are sexual beings. Our bodies are designed to respond positively and desire physical touch – whether sexual or non-sexual – and our sexuality is a significant part of our identity.
Many people were taught from a young age that sexuality or that being a sexual person is a dirty or bad thing, and it is something to be hidden, ignored, or avoided. This idea is in direct conflict with how the human body and mind function. The negative messages we receive about sexuality paired with the biological drive of our sexuality naturally creates internal dissonance, confusion, and shame. These thoughts and feelings carry into relationships, as well, and impact the dynamics in our relationship.
It is crucial to note that sexuality encompasses so much more than sex itself. It is a foundation for nurturing, affection, support, comfort, and relaxation. Even as babies and young children, we crave and need physical touch and attention. This biological drive carries into adulthood as our need for physical touch transfers to our partners rather than our caregivers. Animals share this basic instinct with us. In the 1950s, a researcher named Harry Harlow found that baby monkeys preferred mothers who offered physical comfort over sustenance. His research was groundbreaking; as until then, parental involvement favored a “hands-off,” tough-love approach with children. As it turns out, a loving and supportive relationship between caregiver and child was far more beneficial than a relationship that lacked physical closeness. As we now know, this is just the beginning; the loving physical touch shown to be necessary in childhood remains a constant need throughout our lives, and as adults, that need gets met by our partners.
The benefits of a physically close relationship do not change as we grow into adults. Our sexuality is a means by which we express love, appreciation, playfulness, happiness, and connection. However – and to clarify another myth – this does not mean you need to have sex every day of the week to express yourself to your partner (although you certainly can if that’s how you and your partner choose to express yourselves to each other!). Sensual connection, a physical connection that is not sexual, can offer many of the same benefits. One of the most famous studies about human sexuality and relationships by Masters and Johnson explored how sensuality can be healing. Sensual touch includes exploring your partner’s body in a nonjudgmental, caring, and non-sexual way. The goal is to connect with your partner physically and appreciate your partner’s body, as they simultaneously appreciate your touch and your body. Ultimately, you and your partner mutually meet each other’s biological and emotional needs for physical connection in a way that does not require sex (although it certainly can lead up to and include sex). This Masters and Johnson revolutionary technique of sensate focus has helped improve the physical connection between partners for decades.
Remember: physical touch exhibited through sensuality and/or sexuality is not something that is “optional” in a relationship, nor is it behavior that is to be discouraged or ignored – it is a real need that must be embraced and welcomed in a healthy relationship.
Myth Three: “You Only Need Counseling if Your Relationship is in Trouble.”
Many people turn to counseling when their relationship feels rocky. Of course, this is a significant step and can help navigate a return to solid ground in a partnership. However, like many things in life, relationships need to be continually addressed and focused on, whether they are sailing smoothly or in choppy waters.
Think of it this way: does your car manual recommend getting gas, oil changes, tire rotations, and other maintenance, or does it recommend that you wait to take action until there is a significant problem and your car is no longer drivable? Relationships are the same way! It is much better to be proactive – rather than reactive – in your relationship. Ways to do this include making time for your partner, connecting with them on various levels, and supporting each other. For more ideas from Gottman on what makes for a healthy relationship, refer to his Sound Relationship House.
Remaining proactive can take the form of seeing a counselor. Counselors can serve as an objective third party to your relationship and can offer support and perspective from a different lens. Seeing a counselor for “maintenance,” which can mean weekly, biweekly, monthly, or even quarterly, can positively affect your relationship.
Remember: Be proactive, not reactive! Healthy relationships require work and maintenance even when things are going well. Please don’t wait to work on your relationship until it is at its breaking point.
Whether your relationship could use an overhaul or a tune-up, we at Get Centered are here to support you and your relationship. If you are considering counseling services, please reach out to us, and we can guide you in taking steps towards maintaining a healthy relationship or healing it. Choosing to participate in counseling is an important one. For this reason, Get Centered offers complimentary 15-minute phone consultations before scheduling to answer questions and prepare you for what to expect in your counseling journey. We hope to hear from you and look forward to joining you on your path to wellness! Click here to schedule your complimentary consultation.