We enter relationships with beliefs about what good ones are supposed to be like and how we’re supposed to feel when we're in one.
These assumptions not only determine our behaviour in the relationship, but they also form the basis for assessing our relationship satisfaction and our views about the long-term compatibility of our partners. Since schools don’t teach Relationships 101, we have to learn about relationships in other ways.
Most of us base our assumptions on the relationships we see around us, whether those of our parents or relatives, those of our friends, or what we see depicted in the media.
Such information can be quite misleading and fail to reflect decades of research about relationship satisfaction and longevity.
If these messages weren’t all around, would we really be bothered? Studies have shown that women are actually happier when they’re single, compared to men who are happier when in a relationship. But what makes women so unhappy? Psychologists found that women feel more like mothers or maids than a partner, creating an unhappy environment for them. Now, this isn’t to say all men expect a mother for a partner, but it seems that by the majority, that’s what we sign up for.
But regardless of what our relationships are like, how can we make them better? What can we do to communicate effectively, be heard, and basically, have our cake and eat it too?
Well, I’m going to give you a few tips on how to make your relationship more manageable, by letting you in on some myths we have been told our whole lives.
Myth 1: Communication is key.
Wrong! Communication is not key. Rather, comprehension is what is needed in a relationship. If your partner is not understanding what you’re communicating, nothing will change, and you would have huffed and puffed for hours and still not have been heard.
And you’ll realise, days or weeks later, that the argument you had about your partner not putting their dirty clothes in the laundry basket, actually fell on deaf ears. If approached in a way or at a time at peak stress, it's likely the message wasn't fully heard. No, instead they’ll nod and agree without actually comprehending what the issue is. Both of you need to be calm in order to communicate effectively.
Myth 2: We all know that saying, “never go to bed angry”
Well again, that’s another myth. When we get annoyed and angry, our bodies respond in a similar way to danger and we go into flight or fight mode. This is a physiological response where our hearts race and our blood pressure rises.
When we are mentally in this state, it is hard for us to listen to our partners, it’s hard for us to think and process information. So, who told us that it’s a good time to fix issues when we are feeling like we are having a meltdown? It doesn’t seem logical, does it? Trying to fix an issue when we feel this way is absolutely pointless, whether it’s after breakfast or right before bed. We are emotionally exhausted.
So, next time you’re having a lovers spat, it might be a good idea to give yourself some space, and time, to reflect logically, think of your partner’s point of view too, then once the storm has passed, discuss it, and make sure you’re communicating in a way that you are also being understood (point one above comes in handy here).
Myth 3: “Relationships are 50/50”
Relationships are actually 100/100. We give our all, why would we give just 50?! Most of the time, we probably are giving just 50 because we are so fed up of the dirty laundry not going in the laundry basket, or because our partner keeps leaving water puddles in the bathroom after a shower and our fresh socks just got drenched like there had been a storm in there. Relationships are hard. Lovely, but hard. Sometimes we can’t even manage to give 50. And this goes for your partner too.
We all have bad days, weeks, months. It’s inevitable, it’s life. And where our partner is only giving 20, we pick up the slack, we make their lives better, and easier. These are the times we shower them with love and affection and anything else they might need. We have to learn to recognise when our partners aren’t doing so well and help them pull through.
Myth 4: “Talking helps! Just talk to me!”
OK, so this will help with myth 3. If your male partner is struggling, it’s important for you to be aware that a lot of men aren't used to talking about how they feel. This is definitely becoming less frequent, with male role models in the media speaking up about mental health issues etc. but this 'men must be strong' message is still embedded in many households and childhoods. On the other hand, regardless of gender and identity, some people aren't comfortable talking about how they feel, their concerns, worries or struggles. It takes time to let that wall down and be vulnerable with your partner.
Be there for them and let them know you are there to listen, if and when they want to talk. Explain that to them, and explain that also, you need the same in return. Relationships should be a safe space where you trust each other. Go easy on one another.
Myth 5: "Good relationships don’t require work”
All relationships take work. You’re trying to merge your life, needs, wants, dreams, and hopes, with someone else's. These will shift and change over time, and you should be ready for the changes in your partner’s too.
Relationships are like ships, they need to be steered in the right direction. Of course, you can just let the tide take you wherever, but when you crash and sink, don’t conclude the relationship wasn’t meant to be, it was that you didn’t put in the time and effort. It was the mutual passivity and lack of effort that crashed it.
We can all find ourselves making jokes about our relationships and how annoying our partners can be. But these small simple things can really help you to understand your partner more, and vice versa, they can help your relationship bloom and create a nicer atmosphere to be in.
Of course, if you feel your relationship requires some help to get it back on track then talking with a professional can be really helpful. Relationship counselling can provide the space and time for both of you to feel heard when it feels impossible to find a way through yourselves.
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