6 Lies That Can Ruin Your Relationship
... and the research that shows how they can be so damaging.
Posted May 14, 2016
There’s no simple recipe for a successful relationship, but we all know there’s plenty of advice to go around. Parents, friends, relatives, strangers—almost everyone you meet is ready to hear about your relationship issues and offer their perspective.
But how good is their advice?
Many beliefs about love and relationships, though well-intended, are thoroughly misguided. Indeed, in American culture, certain relationship myths are repeated so often that they become internalized as guiding principles, despite their inaccuracy. Whether you’re searching for love or maintaining a long-term relationship, don’t be misled by these common misconceptions.
- "Always have high expectations for your relationship."
Having high expectations predicts satisfaction if your relationship is on solid footing, but consider lowering your expectations if you’re going through a tough time (e.g., a long-distance relationship, a new baby, managing a job change, or unemployment). McNulty’s (2016) longitudinal study on newlyweds showed that individuals in stable marriages benefited when they had high standards for their relationship. But, when couples had severe problems or habitually engaged in destructive behaviors, high standards predicted lower satisfaction.
- "Focus on yourself. Your partner will be there."
You’re busy juggling multiple responsibilities and pursuing your own goals, but to have a healthy relationship, you need to give it some attention. Little gestures that show you care might seem well, little, but they have a surprisingly strong positive effect on relationship happiness. These thoughtful gestures produce gratitude, and gratitude promotes feelings of connection and relationship satisfaction (Algoe, Gable, & Maisel, 2010). It all equates to big wins from minimal effort.
- "Love is all you need."
Love—whether defined as intimacy or passion—is an important component of a satisfying romantic relationship, but it’s not everything. A relationship without commitment will not last (Rusbult, 1980). Commitment is a decision, and while love might factor into the equation, so too does the overall investment in and need for the relationship, as well as the availability of alternatives to the relationship. For example, if your long-term goals aren't aligned with those of your partner, and a more suitable option might be found elsewhere, your feelings may not carry the day. In other words, research shows that by itself, being “in love” is not a sufficient foundation for predicting relationship stability. Commitment is a necessary component.
- "Your partner should make you happy."
It’s healthy for partners to contribute to each other's happiness. In fact, in heterosexual married couples, the wife’s marital happiness tends to directly affect her husband's overall life happiness (Carr, Freedman, Cornman, & Schwarz, 2014). However, your romantic partner cannot be responsible for your happiness. Depending on someone for all of your needs and fulfillment is a type of overdependence, which is linked to poor coping skills and lower relationship quality (Feeney, Van Vleet, & Jakubiak, 2015).
- "Don’t let your relationship change you."
When someone falls in love, it's actually healthy for them to experience change—or growth—under the influence of their new partner. Often called self-expansion, this growth is an important part of creating interdependence; you’re integrating the other person into your own self-concept (Aron, Paris, & Aron, 1995). To resist self-expansion in favor of total independence isn’t ideal, but neither is pursuing a complete merging of self and partner (Aron, Aron, & Smollan, 1992). The optimal balance is a healthy dose of autonomy and intimacy—taking on of some new traits or habits, but avoiding a complete loss of self.
- "Forget counseling: It won’t work."
People are often skeptical about couples counseling, but it can be a great choice if your relationship is struggling. According to John Gottman, a well-known marriage researcher and therapist, couples usually endure six years of unhappiness before entering counseling, but earlier entry promotes more positive outcomes. The majority of couples benefit from therapy when they are motivated, when the counselor is well-trained and experienced, and when the approach is empirically sound—such as behavioral marital therapy, insight-oriented therapy, or emotionally-focused therapy.
- Algoe, S. B., Gable, S. L., & Maisel, N. C. (2010). It's the little things: Everyday gratitude as a booster shot for romantic relationships. Personal Relationships, 17, 217-233.
- Aron, A., Aron, E. N., & Smollan, D. (1992). Inclusion of Other in the Self Scale and the structure of interpersonal closeness. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 63, 596-612.
- Aron, A., Paris, M., & Aron, E. N. (1995). Falling in love: Prospective studies of self-concept change. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 69, 1102-1112.
- Carr, D., Freedman, V. A., Cornman, J. C., & Schwarz, N. (2014). Happy marriage, happy life? Marital quality and subjective well‐being in later life. Journal of Marriage and Family, 76, 930-948.
- Feeney, B. C., Van Vleet, M., & Jakubiak, B. (2015). An attachment theoretical perspective on optimal dependence in close relationships. Attachment theory and research: New directions and emerging themes. New York: Guilford.
- McNulty, J. K. (2016). Should spouses be demanding less from marriage? A contextual perspective on the implications of interpersonal standards. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 42, 444-457.
- Rusbult, C. E. (1980). Commitment and satisfaction in romantic associations: A test of the investment model. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 16, 172-186.