In popular culture, on social media, and even in couples therapists’ offices, myths about what constitutes a “good” relationship abound:
“If you’re with the right person, your relationship should be effortless.”
“Couples in good relationships don’t argue.”
We asked PACT Certified therapists about the most common misconceptions they see in their practice, how those misconceptions can derail couples from relationship satisfaction, and what’s really true when it comes to fulfilling, secure-functioning relationships.
“Couples have erroneous ideals around what being a couple is. They are willing to work on their children, houses, work, bodies but strangely, the idea of working on a relationship is foreign,” says Eda Arduman, clinical psychologist in Istanbul, Turkey.
Ellen Boeder, MA and licensed professional counselor (LPC), in Boulder, Colorado agrees. “[Couples think] that if you're with the right person, partnership is easy. That if you just learn how to communicate better your problems will go away. That you can find someone else who isn't so difficult. That everyone else knows how to do this but you. That other couples don't have ups and downs or challenges like yours.”
Margaret Martin, licensed clinical social worker (LCSW), in Austin, Texas also warns couples not to compare their relationships to others: “Everyone struggles.”
“The most common misconception that I see in my office is the belief that the other partner is the problem and that the person with the complaint has no role in the issue,” says Debra Campbell, licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT) in Dallas, Texas. “This makes people feel disempowered, helpless, and like they picked the wrong person.” But it takes two for the problem to exist and also to resolve the issue, according to Campbell.
So what’s really true when it comes to creating secure-functioning relationships?
A Two-Person System Is Key
Julie Rappaport, LPC, in Boulder, Colorado believes that both partners have probably misunderstood each other and have probably hurt one another at some point. “[Couples] actually need to work as a team.”
Melissa Ferrari in Sydney, Australia, agrees. “The understanding that what is good for you is also good for me needs to be front and center in any successful couple relationship.”
“In PACT, we believe that the only way to create a secure-functioning relationship is for both partners to take responsibility for the impact they have on each other, and both work to understand and to support one another in a way that will create a feeling of safety and security,” explains Morgan Hart, LCSW of Berkeley, CA.
Joy Dryer, PhD, sums it up: “PACT principle number one is to think, act, and feel as a team.”
But how do you “feel” as a team? It involves understanding and sensitive communication.
Communication Is More Than Words
“Communication is far more than the spoken word,” says Allison Howe, LMHC, in Saratoga Springs, New York. It’s what you convey with your tone, rate of speech, facial expressions, and body language.
When two people are in a committed relationship, Hart explains, “they become an interdependent system” and are constantly impacting each other's nervous systems. She goes on to say that partners must take responsibility for the impact they have on each other, participate in co-regulation, and try to soothe each other through understanding and sensitive communication.
Change Is Constant
Beth O’Brien, PhD, in Fort Collins, Colorado says that partners and relationships change over time as a result of life experiences. “Partners are not always thrilled with each other. Love ebbs and flows. However, building a secure relationship helps couples weather upsets as well as creates deeper connections between partners.”
Lee Kraemer, BA, CTP in Toronto, Canada, believes that a good therapist will encourage a couple to remember why they are together, to recall how they felt when they originally chose each other, and to continue building the relationship, keeping those feelings in mind.
The bottom line: Ignore the false narratives about what constitutes a “good” relationship. They can lead to a lot of pressure and unhappiness. Recognize those relationship myths for what they are and instead, focus on what you and your partner really want to help you create security in your own relationship.