We’re all obsessed with relationships. Think about it — our deepest relationships are connections who bring us joy, sounding boards who keep us grounded, the source of stories that make us wonder, and souls who make us laugh. Relationships shape the lens through which we see the world.
On top of all that, romantic relationships are loaded. After all, we ask a lot out of our significant others, and the media narratives we’re fed only pile on more expectations. In fact, according to Eli Finkel, a professor of social psychology at Northwestern University and author of The All-or-Nothing Marriage, the attributes people want in their spouses and romantic partners have grown exponentially in recent decades.
As we’ve become more discerning about what we’re looking for in a partner, our culture has also promoted some harmful ideas about how relationships work. We’re here to sort it all out — here are five myths that many people accept at face value, but which fall apart when we look at the evidence.
Myth: Men are less emotional about relationships than women.
You’ve seen the movies, so you know the script: The woman wails in sorrow, lamenting her woes and describing her feelings, while the man stands there, stoic and logical, coldly calculating his escape. It might surprise you to learn, though, that men are actually more affected by romantic drama than women.
Wake Forest professor of sociology Robin Simon conducted a study on 1,000 unmarried young adults between the ages of 18 and 23. “Even though men sometimes try to present a tough face, unhappy romances take a greater emotional toll on men than women,” she explains. “They just express their distress differently than women.”
It makes sense if you think about it. When a breakup happens, most women have at least a few close friends to turn to. Men often have fewer friendships where that kind of vulnerable disclosure is the norm — in fact, they often look for emotional support from their romantic partners.
Myth: Couples who live together first are better prepared for marriage.
These days, it feels like everyone lives together before they even think about marriage — let alone ask about it. And honestly, if you ask around, most people believe it’s what’s best. After all, how can you really know someone unless you live with them?
According to researchers at the University of Denver, though, couples who live together before they became married (or engaged) have lower marital satisfaction and a higher divorce rate when compared to those who wait until they were married (or engaged).
“We think that some couples who move in together without a clear commitment to marriage may wind up sliding into marriage partly because they are already cohabiting,” senior researcher Galena Rhoades says of her study.
In other words, couples who are already living together can find themselves getting married out of convenience, not because they took intentional steps toward marriage. After all, when you start living together, your lives start merging, your belongings end up together — until suddenly, it’s a whole lot harder to make a rational decision about your future.
And if a couple looks at cohabitation as a “test period,” it could be a sign that there is a significant obstacle to committing for life through marriage. “Perhaps if a person is feeling a need to test the relationship, he or she already knows some important information about how a relationship may go over time,” says Rhoades.
Myth: Going to bed angry is horrible for your relationship.
“Never go to bed angry” is one of those conventional pieces of advice that sounds good in theory, but in reality, is not all that practical, and might do more harm than good. In my own personal experience, all too often, I’m irritable simply because I’m tired, and fighting about it won’t solve anything that some good, old-fashioned shut-eye won’t. Not to mention the fact that some problems look a lot different in the light of day than they do at night. I’ve found that darkness outside can often add an extra element of drama that the sun (and a new day) melts away.
According to experiments conducted the Gottman Institute, when couples are fighting, sometimes they’re so physiologically stressed — with cortisol in the bloodstream, an increased heart rate, sweating, etc — that it’s impossible to have a rational discussion.
Relationships guru Dr. John Gottman recommends that couples take a breather after a fight. “If you feel yourself getting overwhelmed during a fight, take a break and come back to it later, even if that means sleeping on it,” he explains in his blog.
Myth: You need to love everything about your partner — even the worst qualities.
Sure, your partner is lovable, but maybe there are some things you just can’t get your brain — and heart — wrapped around. Like the way he chews like a farm animal, or maybe the way she never replaces the toilet paper roll when it’s empty. Somewhere, someone said that “real love” means embracing these sorts of qualities about your partner. But I’m here to tell you that this is just not so. Even the most lovable people have unloveable qualities — and we can love the person without endorsing all of their bad habits.
In fact, some qualities shouldn’t be embraced, but rather challenged and examined — think of unhealthy habits or dysfunctional behavior. Sometimes real love means accepting the person, but not the action.
But more often — especially for the petty issues — it’s best if we see these habits for what they are and develop effective communication with our partners about how they impact us (and how our habits impact them!).
The goal of marriage is to get your partner into heaven. That doesn’t mean that your spouse is a project for you to work on, but it does mean that we help each other grow towards perfection to become more complete and fuller versions of ourselves.
Myth: Jealousy is a sign of love.
Somewhere along the line, people got into their minds that jealousy was a glamorous part of love. And I get the appeal — jealousy is easily mistaken for desire. And if you’re young and immature and out at a party, that’s maybe what you’re looking for — attention.
But we must remember that attention ≠ love. And if you or your significant other routinely try to make each other jealous at parties, it’s not really a sign that you love each other as much as it’s a sign that you’re playing off each other’s deepest insecurities — and, honey, that ain’t loving. It’s actually rather dysfunctional.
Gwendolyn Seidman is an associate professor of psychology and chair of the psychology department at Albright College, and she shares on Psychology Today that romantic jealousies are more about “the insecurities of the jealous people, not about the love they have for their partner.”
She explains that research reveals jealousy to be linked to traits such as low self-esteem, neuroticism (a general tendency to be moody), anxiety, insecurity, feelings of inadequacy, co-dependence, and an anxious attachment style. These are not exactly healthy traits for a romance.
So next time your partner remarks on something you did and is disproportionately jealous, don’t take it as a compliment as much as an insight into their psyche. And if you find that you’re trying to make them jealous, look deep inside yourself and ask: What do I really want out of this relationship?
As the rules of modern dating evolve, it’s important to remember that certain “rules” should be taken with a grain of salt. Before you lean on the accepted wisdom, a little research might help distinguish what is solid and what should be thrown out entirely.