There are many myths about what a healthy marriage looks and feels like. When we start seeing these myths as facts, we get into problematic territory. Many myths create unrealistic standards, which when we bring into our homes and apply to our relationship can hinder them. For instance, if you think you should only attend therapy when your problems are dire, you might be waiting way too long.
Below, Lena Aburdene Derhally, MS, LPC, a psychotherapist and relationship expert, shared three myths and the associated facts, along with several practical tips.
Myth: Our problems are too minor for counseling
Many of the couples Derhally sees feel shameful about going to therapy because their friends say that it means they shouldn’t be together or they’re a lost cause. But Derhally is actually a big proponent of attending therapy or a workshop early on in your relationship when issues are still minor. For instance, you might attend premarital counseling.
Most of the unmarried couples she sees find that their issues can be resolved. And when they work through them before getting married, they create a strong foundation and a renewed bond, said Derhally, a certified Imago Relationship therapist practicing in Washington, D.C.
“[N]o one in life teaches us how to be in a relationship, what contributes to relationship dynamics or conflict, and effective communication skills for couples.” Even couples who have good relationship skills will come in for a maintenance session or to reconnect, she said.
That’s because minor issues can evolve into big problems. “Problems in marriages can arise when we keep things under the surface for a long time because they don’t feel like something egregious or a big deal.” Addressing those feelings and concerns stops them from metastasizing.
What issues do couples typically work through? According to Derhally, these might include anything from resolving conflict in a peaceful way to appreciating each other’s differences (“instead of being triggered by them”).
When is a good time to seek therapy? For instance, seek therapy when you have trouble communicating with your partner, you keep having the same argument without any resolution, or you feel disconnected from your partner, Derhally said.
Myth: Monotony is bad for my relationship
We often hear in the media that monotony is bad for a marriage. We’re told that we must keep things fresh and exciting or our relationship will be doomed.
But while it’s important to spice things up, Derhally said, it’s more important to appreciate our spouse in the everyday. “Routines and predictability also bring a level of safety and stability in times when everything else seems chaotic.” Feeling safe and trusting our spouses are important for a healthy relationship. Plus, it’s simply impossible to sustain excitement in a relationship all the time, she said.
How can you appreciate your partner? “It may sound morbid but I tell people to try to picture your life without this person. What would your life look like and what would you really miss?” Derhally also suggested focusing on your spouse’s positives and on the good your partner brings into your life versus the negative and what your spouse isn’t doing.
Myth: I have to put my spouse first. Always.
Derhally frequently hears people say that a successful marriage involves putting your spouse first and foremost. “While it is true that your partner should be a top priority, to think that your partner will and should always be your number one partner is unrealistic.” She shared this example: You have very young children whose needs have to come first (since they can’t care for themselves). Or you have a sick parent who requires your care and attention.
Instead Derhally suggested thinking about it this way: “Your partner should always be one of your top priorities.” Maybe your spouse is “equal to the needs of the children, and sometimes external factors require your partner to be present for someone else.” The key is for couples to come back to each other and reconnect regularly.
“If we accept the reality that relationships can sometimes be boring, sometimes be monotonous [and] that life will throw us curveballs [which won’t] always allow our spouse to put us first…, we can find the beauty in imperfections in our relationships,” Derhally said. Because relationships are messy, and they don’t necessarily follow smooth paths. And we can refocus on the strength of our bond, she said.
Happy couple photo available from Shutterstock