Published on-line by Jessica Chou in Refinery29 on August 6, 2015.
Jessica Chou has drawn on the wonderful writings of Esther Perel to put these myths and truths in a nice list. Perel is a psychologist who specializes in relationships and sexuality.
Mythical Origins: “Remember your most important job is to build up and maintain his ego (which gets bruised plenty in business)… Morale is a woman’s business.”
The Truth: That wasn’t true when Edward Podolski wrote it for his 1943 book, Sex Today in Wedded Life” and it’s not true now. It’s incredibly damaging when looking after the emotional part of a relationship is thought of as “woman’s work.” Both partners are responsible for engaging emotionally with each other, and with emotionally supporting each other. Emotionally you go it together, or you don’t go at all.
Myth #1: People in a relationship don’t flirt. If they do, it means they are unhappy and looking for something else.
The Truth: As Ester Perel observes, flirting is normal, and not necessarily a sign of discontent at all. But the flirting is done in a way that is like always looking at your phone as a way of avoiding contact with your partner, that IS a problem.
Myth #2: Honesty is the best policy.
The Truth: Sometimes “being honest” is just an excuse for being cruel, as in “I think you’re a fat slob” or “you are the worst sex partner ever.” Research shows “white lies” that protect your partner’s feelings can help strengthen a relationship; but lying to cover up something you did wrong weakens a relationship. Yes, you must express your dissatisfaction if sex is poor or your partner has put on the pounds by eating too much without exercising (not doing so would be conflict avoidance) but you don’t get a free pass to be cruel in the name of honesty.
Myth #3: Bad sex should always be a relationship deal breaker. It means you ain’t compatible.
The Truth: Most people experience bad sex at some points in their relationship, especially women if there is a lack of emotional connection. That is different from a fundamental incompatibility (like a totally kinky woman in a vanilla marriage). Typically, women climax only about 63% of the time, and men climax only 85% of the time. Bad sex is usually fixable.
Myth #4: Your S.O. should be your best friend.
The Truth: Yes, they should be a good friend, and maybe even “a” best friend among several “best friends. They also might well be part-mother, part-father, part-sister, part-brother, and part-child to you. But not ALL of ALL of those things. And not necessarily “the” best friend. It is too much to expect your partner to be all things to you. In most of the world, the roles of best friend and primary partner are different. Typically we need a best friend outside our primary relationship who is an ally to our primary relationship, and with whom we can talk about that relationship!
Myth #5: Fighting is always a sign that something is wrong.
The Truth: Always fighting is a sign something is wrong, but all partners have differences and most fight sometimes. As John Gottman points out, it is how you fight that counts: a couples stability is largely defined by how they interact during a fight, and how they come together after, or “repair” the bond after a difference. Criticism, contempt, dismissiveness, stonewalling and other modes of fighting are damaging long after the content of the conflict is resolved.
Myth #6: One a cheater, always a cheater.
The Truth: While some individual traits are definitely linked to cheating, more often than not cheating reflects a distance in the relationship caused by other problems… by the interaction between the two partners. Often once the relationship conflict is healed, neither partner cheats again. AT the same time, some folks are just self-centered or so afraid of commitment the sleep with others without an agreement to do so with their partner. Of course, it is important to define what “cheating” is. While most couples agree to sexual monogamy, others agree that sex outside the marriage is acceptable under certain conditions, but a partner breaks those conditions then they are cheating.
Myth #7: To get past cheating, you must forgive and forget – or just dump the cheater.
The Truth: An affair is not the sum total of a relationship. In the course of a forty year marriage, it may just be a small climb that recedes into the past as a distant memory. But “forgive and forget” is not quite right. The cheater must really work to rebuild trust, and the couple must look together at any issues within the relationship that might have led to the cheating. As Perel says “an affair has a meaning, a storyline – and understanding that is important for healing.” That means understanding by both partners. One person is responsible for the cheating but both partners are responsible for the repair.