There are many damaging myths out there about relationships and what makes a great one, all wilfully packaged up and propagated by movies, magazines and websites, and even some counsellors. Myths such as ‘Relationships are hard work’ or ‘You have to have lots of things in common’ or ‘My partner should know what I need and how I feel’.
The problem with these false messages is that they create unrealistic expectations and can cause unnecessary friction and tension in an otherwise happy relationship.
I want to challenge some of these popular ideas to make you think and question some of the assumptions you have heard so many times you probably never think twice about them. Sometimes turning something on its head can help you see things a different way and give you all sorts of answers you never expected.
Here are 3 of the big ones currently doing the rounds out there.
Myth #1: All Differences Must Be Resolved.
This is a key one. And on the surface, it sounds logical right? In order to be happy with someone, we must resolve all our differences and disagreements.
However, the fact is there are just some things that will never be resolved.
And the truth is, they’re often not as important as we think they are. There will always be things that you and your partner will disagree on and continue to disagree on. These may hinge on a difference of beliefs or values or even just a strongly felt opinion and you know what, within reason, that’s perfectly okay. At the end of the day, you and your partner are different people, with different perspectives, ideas and perceptions.
However when we decide that things have to be a certain way in order for us to be happy, in order for us to have a great relationship, those differences then become the focal point. And all we notice is the fact that they haven’t been resolved.
Here’s an alternative. Forget the whole ‘We need to fix this in order to be happy’ mantra. Embrace your differences, rather than seeing them as things you need to overcome. Your differences give you opportunities to learn something from each other, to respect each other’s perspective, to be flexible with one another. Too many issues arise in relationships from our own inflexibility. Those differences can also be part of the spark between you that keeps things interesting.
Myth #2: Focusing on the Problem, Fixes The Problem.
It’s a widely held belief out there that the more you focus on a problem in your relationship, the more you understand the problem and the better able you are to fix the problem.
In reality, it doesn’t actually fix anything. All it does is make you an expert on the problem and creates a divide between the two of you. You haven’t necessarily moved any closer towards resolving it. And that’s because focusing on the problem, has you focusing on everything that is wrong, everything that is missing. It feeds old resentments and disappointments until they brew into much larger issues, purely from the attention, and thereby the importance, you are giving it. And when you’re focusing on everything that is not working, it makes it very difficult to see everything that is. And it robs us of the opportunity to connect with each other.
When one person is focused on a problem in a relationship, the other feels judged as a result, which only brings up their insecurities. And when we are feeling insecure, we are so busy defending our position that we stop listening, we stop connecting and we find ourselves cut off in a place of separation and isolation.
Instead, find another way in. Switch your attention from the problem to understanding where your partner is coming from. Focus less on the content of what your partner is saying and more on how they may be feeling. Often problems arise because couples misunderstand what is actually being said. They are focusing more on the words, rather than recognising the emotions and feelings that are driving the words. And our emotions, how we feel, are everything in a relationship.
Myth 3: Communication is The Cause.
Which brings us to Myth Number 3. Communication is the number one issue that people attribute their relationship problems to. I have so many couples come to me and say ‘We need to work on our communication’. ‘My husband doesn’t communicate well’, ‘When I try to talk to my partner she withdraws and shuts down and I get angry and we fight so if we could just learn to communicate with each other, we could sort our issues out.’
Sound familiar? Well the truth is, communication isn’t the problem.
Of course, it is a vital part of any healthy, happy relationship. We all need, and want, to communicate with our partners. We all want that connection, that understanding. It’s our natural state. However people generally don’t need to learn how to communicate, most couples actually communicate quite well. But what they are often communicating is their disagreement, their judgment and their displeasure about whatever is going on. And they are often communicating all these things quite successfully.
A perceived lack of communication, or difficulty communicating, is actually a symptom of a relationship in distress, it’s not the cause. You can temporarily treat the symptom by focusing on learning new listening and language skills, without actually addressing the real problems that lie beneath. What’s going on at a deeper level for each person and in the relationship is far more important.
Our communication reflects our internal emotional state. When we are feeling judged or criticised, when we are feeling unappreciated or unloved, when we are not feeling good about ourselves, these negative feelings interfere with and inhibit clear and open communication. We feel insecure so we withdraw, we gather our defences around us, we shut down. And communication gets shut down along with it.
What opens up the lines of communication again, what brings a level of connection and positivity back in a relationship, is a commitment to deepen our appreciation for ourselves and our partners. It’s the quality of the feelings and the level of understanding between the two of you that need the most focus and attention rather than the type of communication or how well you are communicating with each other.
People who have great relationships focus on understanding one another, rather than trying to fix one another. Because when we come from a place of understanding, the judgement stops, which then allows something new to come in. The litany of things that are wrong in our heads goes away. We start to see the great things that are there instead of everything that is missing. And that in itself creates a greater sense of connection.
The key to a great relationship is not in what we communicate – it’s in how we understand the feelings that are communicated. In a recent post I discussed the word compassion . I think this word is a powerful example of how we can connect with our loved ones when we feel we’re drifting apart. This is one way we can actually really connect – not just communicate.
And connection is what we’re all ultimately looking for.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments below, I’d love to hear from you.