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  • Are You Falling for These Five Marriage Myths?

    There’s an abundance of marriage advice available these days, a lot of it useful, some of it insightful, but a portion of it just plain wrong. According to Drs. John and Julie Gottman, founders of the Gottman Institute, these are what we call marriage myths. Age-old “hand-me-down” wisdom that, despite science’s best efforts, seems to be seared into the human psyche.

    The first step in recovery is admitting the problem. So today, we will be exposing the marriage myths and the reasons why they’re false.

    1. Common interests keep you together.

     

    It’s an approach that fuels the algorithm behind the online dating industry. The science of Match.com and eHarmony is based on the myth that having many common interests are predictors of relationship success. However, this is contrary to other conventional wisdom like “opposites attract.” In a Pew research survey, in response to a question asking about the importance of having shared interests, 64 percent rated it “very important”. Higher than importance ratings for sexual satisfaction and agreeing about politics.

    This is a myth because it’s not the shared interest or activity that keeps you together—but the way you interact with each other while doing it. Any activity can negatively impact partners if they’re being negative towards one another while engaging in it. A stronger predictor of compatibility is the ratio of positive interactions to negative interactions, which should be about 5-to-1 in everyday situations.

    1. Never go to bed angry.

     

    This one has been immortalized time and time again. In art, songs, and even in a well-read book called the Bible. However, this advice fails to take into account the individual differences we all possess in our approach for dealing with conflict and disagreements. Modern research tells us that about two-thirds of recurring marital issues go unresolved because of personality differences between partners.

    In a Gottman “Love Lab” experiment, the Gottmans found that arguing with a spouse puts partners under an intense level of physiological stress—heart rate, cortisol levels, perspiration, etc.—making it nearly impossible to have a constructive and rational discussion. When the couple is allowed to step away for a while, allowing for their physiological symptoms to dissipate, they are better able to come back and have a respectful conversation. The take-away? If a fight is getting heated, take some time—even if that means overnight.

     

    1. Couples therapy is for broken marriages.

     

    This one stems from the stigma that still surrounds couples therapy today. An idea that states if spouses can’t figure out a way to make it work on their own, that there’s something fundamentally flawed with the relationship. A skeptic in New York magazine went so far as to say, “If you need couples therapy before you’re married — when it’s supposed to be fun and easy, before the pressures of children, family, and combined financials — then it’s the wrong relationship.”

    A marriage is not a set-it-and-forget-it situation. The average couple waits around six years after issues arise before seeking help…and by that time, it’s usually too late. Annoyances have festered into deep wounds, miscommunications have bred resentment, and criticism became each partners’ primary love language. But this could have been prevented if they sought help sooner. The conflict resolution and management skills gained in couple’s therapy are not about salvaging “bad” marriages, but rather about providing tools to help maintain a relationship.

     

    1. Affairs are the main cause of divorce.

     

    Affairs are devastating. Especially in a monogamous relationship. That betrayal of trust is a form of trauma. A trauma significant enough to be labeled as the leading cause for divorce by so many. I won’t try to convince you that affairs don’t often lead to divorce, but I will try to explain how the predictors of divorce often appear before the affair manifested.

    Despite the stigma surrounding affairs and the way we demonize those who cheat, it’s often loneliness—not lust—which leads a partner to have an affair. And that loneliness didn’t happen overnight. Rather it built and built over time, fed by critical partners and miscommunication along with a loss of intimacy and closeness.

     

    1. Marriage benefits from a ‘relationship contract.’

     

    This one means well in theory but achieves little in practice. It can seem very seductive to lay down the law in a relationship. To come up with ground rules or a contract of sorts to proactively manage conflict-inducing areas of a marriage. Like housework, quality time spent together, and sex. The idea is if you write out the rules and follow the rules, you can avoid conflict, right? Wrong.

    In the clinical work conducted by the Gottmans, they found that marriage contracts (or relationships based on systems of reciprocity) were less successful than other marriages. “Keeping track can cause couples to keep score, which can lead to resentment,” says Dr. John Gottman. This form of relationship management sets up an expectation and if that expectation goes unmet for whatever reason, it can create problems in the relationship.

     

    John Gallagher, LMHC has been a practicing therapist for over 20 years and specializes in both individual and couples therapy. Schedule your appointment today.