We all hold distorted beliefs about how relationships work and don’t work.
These beliefs can easily dampen a relationship and spark dissatisfaction in both partners. Our warped ideas can lead us to run for the hills when a seemingly stubborn issue actually has a resolution — and that resolution can help us get closer to our partner and bolster our relationship.
Below, you’ll find several distorted beliefs. Check in with yourself to see if you hold them — especially since our thoughts influence the actions we take and the decisions we make.
Distorted belief: Healthy couples don’t have conflict
“Conflict is a natural consequence of relationships,” said David J. Dumais, LCSW CGP, a group and couple’s therapist in Brooklyn and Manhattan. “[A]ny two people will often want different things at different moments.”
Conflict can actually be great for your relationship — if you work through it constructively. That is, if you fight right, you can better understand each other and strengthen your connection.
According to Andrew Christensen, Ph.D, and Neil S. Jacobson, Ph.D, in Reconcilable Differences, “Although they are painful, conflicts offer a window into the emotions of both of you: your disappointments, hopes, strengths, and weaknesses. If you can look at these conflicts not with the goal of blaming and fault finding but with the goal of understanding the strong emotions that drive each of you, you can learn more about yourself and your partner individually as well as how you interact. This understanding allows you to appreciate each other more completely and more honestly and can inspire compassion for each other’s position.”
Distorted belief: Sharing social media accounts helps us maintain trust
“Some couples seem to believe that ‘trust’ is displayed by eliminating all privacy,” said Rosy Saenz-Sierzega, Ph.D, a counseling psychologist in Chandler, Ariz. who specializes in working with couples. But needing to share your social media accounts actually “suggests insecurities, mistrust and codependency.”
Couples build trust and respect not by eliminating privacy, but by eliminating secrecy. Plus, “two people essentially merging to have one account identity takes away from a couple’s interdependence, which is a fundamental necessity for all healthy relationships,” she said.
Distorted belief: When I tell my partner to do something, it doesn’t mean as much
We think that our partners should automatically know what we need and want. So having to tell them can feel disappointing. However, in healthy relationships, partners regularly and clearly communicate their needs.
“This distorted belief prevents an amazing opportunity to have gratitude for someone who hears our needs and then works hard to meet them,” said Anna Osborn, LMFT, a psychotherapist who practices in Sacramento, Calif., and virtually coaches couples across the country. If you share your needs, but then berate your partner for trying to meet them, you’ve “set the dynamic up to fail.”
Distorted belief: If my partner really loved me, they wouldn’t spend so much time with their friends and family
Dumais has heard this quote from couples he works with. That is, people commonly believe that their partners should satisfy all their needs. But that’s impossible.
As he said, “No one person can take the place of a rich and varied support system,” which includes friends and family. It’s also important for each partner to have outlets for fulfilling their interests and passions. For instance, you love to read, run and paint, but your spouse doesn’t. So you join a book club, run with friends and take a painting class.
“Each member of a couple should have their own identity, and this can only happen if a healthy balance of time together and time apart also exists,” Saenz-Sierzega said.
Distorted belief: My partner should make me feel better
According to Dumais, “Each partner needs to be responsible for his or her own mental health. The other can help but people have to do their own heavy lifting.” He shared this example: A wife takes a new job she loves. Her husband is upset because she’s not spending as much time with him. Even though she tries to be present when she’s home, he still feels abandoned—a feeling with roots in his upbringing.
However, it’s not the wife’s job to make her husband happy, or to care for his emotional well-being. “He has to understand why he is so unhappy and what he can do about it. She can help him. She can sympathize with him.” But, ultimately, it’s up to him to resolve the issue.
Distorted belief: A healthy couple has to consistently have a specific amount of sex
“There are no rules for what is ‘normal’ for your own sex life,” Saenz-Sierzega said. Of course, our society has many ideas and standards. But sex is something you discuss and agree on as a couple, she said.
If you can’t talk honestly with your partner about sex, you probably aren’t ready to have it, Saenz-Sierzega said. “Open communication about values and expectations is one of the best ways to ensure a healthy, mature relationship.”
When you find yourself getting upset in your relationship, take some time to examine the beliefs that underlie your feelings. Are you holding a sky-high expectation? As Osborn said, “When you hear yourself say ‘should,’ use it as a caution sign to look at unrealistic or distorted beliefs you’re placing on a relationship.”