What does a happy relationship look like? Is it the 1950s ideal, where the husband provides and the wife has the children washed and sedated, then provides a home-cooked meal with inventive use of gelatin? Is it the cliche from the romcoms of the 90s, where the man surprises the woman at her job at a fashion magazine with flowers and chocolates? Is it two partners who, every time they glimpse each other, spend ten to fifteen minutes passionately making out?
Let’s be honest, all of these have problems. But they (presumably) work, for some. The truth is, happy relationships look different for everyone. It’s a tricky mix of love languages, cultural expectations (to be conformed to or ignored) and, presumably, if you’ve got kids and are far too tired to do anything but eat pizza and curl up on the sofa together. But let’s see what the psychologists think. What do I believe I know about happy relationships that is, in fact, a myth?
The first myth about relationships is that good relationships don’t require work. The analogy used by the therapist is that beautiful gardens are frequently tended to. I think this pretty much tracks: loving your partner should come naturally, and you shouldn’t have to force it, but if you want to make your significant other happy, you need to pay attention to their needs and interests.
If it’s a long-term relationship, these will evolve over time. At the moment, my primary love language is physical touch, but I can imagine a place where I’m older and busier and coming back to a clean home would really make me appreciate acts of service. I hate hoovering.
The second myth about relationships is that one partner should know the other’s needs and feelings. I wouldn’t be surprised if this turned out to be the most toxic myth. Your partner isn’t a mind reader: you need to communicate! Expecting, say, flowers, or a proposal, may not happen and will only build feelings of resentment. Next is passive-aggressive behaviour, then feelings of discontent from both people.
Buy your own flowers, and mention to your partner how much you like them. If you’re looking for an engagement and a marriage, you should discuss the future of your relationship in a calm, open manner. There’s certainly something to be said for being aware of your partner and paying attention if they seem upset, and generally being compassionate, but really, communication is crucial for happy relationships.
The third myth about relationships is that if it’s real, you’ll be having amazing sex, all the time, for the rest of your life. Passion will never fade, you’ll never have a dry spell, and there will always be guaranteed orgasms, creative positions and surprising moments. This is bollocks. As you become more comfortable in your relationship, you’ll start to get into patterns.
Sometimes, this means sex becomes more routine and less novel. That’s fine! If you want to spice things up, great, but otherwise it’s not an issue unless it bothers you. If sex stops completely, try increasing emotional intimacy as this often leads to physical intimacy. Otherwise, again, communicate. You and your partner might have different libidos, and that can be a relationship ender, or you can compromise and work through it. That’s up to you.
The fourth myth about relationships is that having a child will strengthen your bond. If anyone believes this, they definitely shouldn’t have kids. Studies have shown that people get less happy in their relationships with every offspring they produce, and it’s hardly surprising.
Whilst I haven’t given birth, I can’t imagine that spending your time covered in baby poo, exhausted and with chapped nipples and vaginal tearing makes one feel sexy or care too much when their partner has a light cold. I’m sure people will tell you that having a child is incredible, and rewarding and you should cherish every second of it. To that I say – how much are you enjoying doing your kid’s maths homework?
The fifth myth about relationships is that jealousy is a sign that someone cares. Debate whether this is more toxic than myth two. Jealousy is normal from time to time, but it shouldn’t be the cornerstone of your relationship. If you try to make someone jealous to see if they care, you’re far too immature to be emotionally involved or in a relationship. Go to therapy instead.
The sixth myth about relationships is that fights ruin them. You’ve got to be careful with this one. If you argue all the time, break up. It’s as simple as that. You’re not happy, your partner isn’t happy, and you’re clearly not working through your issues. So leave. Having said that, an infrequent disagreement isn’t the end of the world, and can actually indicate that you know sometimes you’ll be at odds but your bond will overcome it. Be careful with this one.
The seventh myth about relationships is that in order for one to be successful, one partner must change. Here’s the thing: people are fascinating, complex and constantly evolving. This is as true for your partner as it is for you.
So don’t take a serial cheater and bad boy and believe that your magical vagina will fix everything; but know that when you find someone you’re compatible with, you’ll fall in love and grow together. You should both become more mature, more considerate of other people’s feelings and more willing to work together.
Our final myth about relationships is that in order for a couple to be in therapy, they must really be in trouble. Yes, some people do therapy when they’re rocketing towards divorce, but that doesn’t have to be the case. Sometimes, it’s a good idea to just take some time with a third party and make sure that you’re understanding each other and checking to see if there’s anything in your relationship which could be improved.
I think it’s also a good idea to have a session or two before making a big choice, like moving in together, getting married or having children. Make sure that communication is clear, boundaries are set and you both know what the expectations are.
Men talk about women a lot. Women talk about men. People in same-sex relationships talk about the people they’re in same-sex relationships with. But just because something is being regularly discussed, doesn’t mean that we’re necessarily solving anything.
So although your friend might tell you about the best way to make a woman happy, or how to make a man commit to you, that isn’t always helpful. I would recommend talking with your partner, not about them, and dispelling unhelpful and untrue myths so that you can actually improve your relationship.