2. Myth: There’s a universal path in marriage, such as having kids.
Fact: “There are no rules except the ones that the couple agrees upon, honestly and openly,” said Monica O’Neal, PsyD., a Harvard-trained licensed clinical psychologist, relationship specialist, writer, and lecturer at Harvard Medical School. She suggested couples establish their own sense of marital culture before getting married. In other words, talk about what marriage looks like for you.
When couples are trying to make big lifestyle decisions, such as whether to have kids, going along with the common or traditional path — without considering their needs and beliefs — only leads to problems.
3. Myth: Having kids brings couples closer.
Fact: Having kids can deepen partners’ understanding of each other and their intimacy, said Keith Miller, LICSW, a couples therapist in Washington, D.C., and author of the forthcoming book Love Under Repair: How to Save Your Marriage and Survive Couples Therapy. But having kids also “activates many previously hidden fault lines for spouses. Some of these fault lines produce catastrophic marital earthquakes that no one seemed to see coming.”
For instance, according to Miller, partners may disagree on their style of parenting. One spouse might think the other is too permissive, while that spouse swears they’re too restrictive. One spouse may become jealous if their child always turns to the other spouse for support. Since most parents have a natural instinct to protect their kids, they’ll attack their spouse instead, he said.
“Having kids will bring you closer if you allow your life to expand to embrace the wisdom of ‘it takes a village,’” Miller said. This includes learning from others and building a supportive and encouraging network “for the normal pressures of being a mom or dad.” He also noted there are many helpful parenting resources, such as the Parent Encouragement Program (PEP).
4. Myth: Differences will ruin your marriage.
Fact: It isn’t the differences in a marriage that potentially destroy it, Miller said. It’s the way we respond to those differences that’s the key, he said. “We fall in love feeling that we are one with our partner … We minimize our differences and forget that we are two totally separate people.”
However, after the honeymoon phase ends, and we realize that we’re actually two distinct individuals with a slew of differences, we freak out. But it’s important to realize that differences are natural and normal. You don’t have to agree with everything your partner says, Miller said. “But you can find something worthwhile about where they’re coming from.”
If you can’t, get curious, he said. For instance, you might say, “I don’t get this. Can you help me understand? Can you take me where you are?”
These kinds of conversations give couples the opportunity to connect and get to know each other, he said. When we’re falling in love, we’re constantly sharing our stories, he said. Keep doing the same after you’re married. Because once you can set aside your ideas for the moment to fully listen to your spouse, in the details of their story, you’ll find something you can relate to, he said.
5. Myth: Happy couples don’t argue.
Fact: According to Moral, each of us enters into marriage with different expectations, needs, fears and experiences from our families or past relationships. Naturally, “miscommunication is bound to happen.”
In fact, said O’Neal, “a lack of arguing indicates a lack of truthfulness and emotional intimacy.” When couples don’t argue, they make all kinds of emotional compromises — everything from how they communicate to how they approach time with their extended families, she said.
This also erodes trust and triggers feelings of contempt, she said. “Each person in the relationship — children included — will feel the unclear tension, or a sense of ‘walking on eggshells’ in the home but feel unable or afraid to acknowledge it discuss it.” This makes the marriage and household “feel tenuous and unstable.”
Healthy couples do argue. But they don’t “explode, hit below the belt, or use arguing as a tool to gain power in the relationship,” O’Neal said. “The healthiest couples also seek to resolve arguments, are able adjust to the resolutions, and then can to forgive and move on.”
6. Myth: Happy couples have to do everything together.
Fact: Spending time together and sharing common interests is great, but focusing on your own interests also is healthy, Moral said. In fact, when the opposite happens — you’re forced to do things you don’t enjoy or you’re not allowed to do things that are important to you — your sense of safety and trust in your marriage are compromised, she said.
“[When] we don’t feel supported in pursuing our interests or goals it can lead to resentment or feeling trapped in the marriage.”
7. Myth: Monogamy means dissipating passion or boring sex.
Fact: According to Moral, “The sexual excitement in a long-term relationship is not the same intense lust that takes over when you first meet someone, but it’s a deeper exhilaration that develops from knowing someone intimately and profoundly.”
When couples buy into the myth about fading passion, they might resign themselves to an unsatisfying sex life, instead of working together to resolve the real issue, she said.
“The key is to connect emotionally and to create a secure bond with your partner. Emotional openness and the ability to express love go hand in hand with physical pleasure in bed.”
Marriage isn’t “something that is going to keep itself together,” Miller said. It’s important to actively work on your relationship, not take each other for granted and make conscious decisions to be compassionate and loving.