8 Love + Relationship Myths Debunked: Fantasy vs. Reality


Barbara DiGangi, LMSW

Whether you’re in a relationship, single, or have been married for years, we come across advice from relatives, messages from the media and popular culture, and myths mistaken for the “norm.” What’s reality? What is only fantasy? Let’s get the facts straight in order to approach our current and future relationships in the healthiest way possible.

1. “It’s not meant to be.” “It’s meant to be.”

Okay, we’re all guilty of saying this at one point or another. However, the fact is that any relationship requires work from both parties. A relationship or marriage succeeding or failing is in direct correlation with the amount of effort each person is willing to put in. Simple math. A relationship between two people is not “destined” to fail or “destined” to succeed at any point. It relies on the work each person puts in to maintain and nurture it, as well as their efforts to deeply understand one another, evolve together (and individually), and mend or address any bumps along the way. This myth alludes to the idea that relationships are some sort of magical fairytale — unfortunately, this is not the case.

2. “I can change him/her…” “He/She will change after we get married.” “He/She will change after we have the baby.”

If you notice, each of these examples view change as the result of an external force (you, marriage, a child). True, meaningful change comes from the inside and is intrinsically motivated. Secondly, each of these assumes that change is instantaneous. Personal change within yourself or within a relationship takes time and intentional, applied effort. It takes a large dose of self-awareness, acceptance, and then willingness to take steps towards change.

“As Marilyn Ferguson observed, ‘ No one can persuade another to change. Each of us guards a gate of change that can only be opened from the inside. We cannot open the gate of another, either by argument or emotional appeal.” (The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People)

If you desire change in another person for their personal growth and your relationship, it should be a conversation or a step far in advance of marriage or a child. A marriage or a child used as a catalyst for change will only complicate things.

3. “You can’t have it all.” “One will be sacrificed — your family or your career.”

Oh, the argument of the century and my favorite myth (did I mention — everyone has their own opinion, and you can feel free to disagree of course)! One of my favorite quotes is by Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg:

“The most important career choice you’ll make is who you marry. I have an awesome husband, and we’re 50/50.”

Now, both marriage and career are adventures and they are not cake. There will be ups. There will be downs. There will be moments of pure chaos. What it comes down to is yourself and the person standing next to you.  It’s important you see eye to eye. A partner that believes in supporting you, your dreams, and a team approach will have your back.

We’re in an world of connection, shared experiences, and interdependency — there’s greatness and a “one up” in combined potential. A healthy self and healthy relationship are the recipe and foundation for success. If you’re someone who feels you’re sacrificing a bit of one or the other, take a deeper look. Remember, you decide the definition of “it all” anyway.

4. “I am looking for someone perfect for me.” “He/She has to be [insert list here].” “I am looking for my prince.” “I need love at first sight or sparks flying.”

Everyone has standards and expectations. Are they realistic, though? Perfection sets all of us up for failure. Expecting perfection or “sparks” will only leave us disappointed. What makes others beautiful, lovable and their true selves are their imperfections. A relationship built on one or both people presenting their “false selves” in order to be viewed in a “perfect” light makes for a very poor outcome. A healthy relationship is one that encourages both parties to be their best and truest selves, flaws and all. Be yourself and encourage others to do the same.

Unfortunately, we often have expectations that merely have roots in a movie or book. Life isn’t always glamorous, it gets messy. Embrace it. You may find a more mature love in a second marriage. The best fit and compliment for you may be the person you least expect. The best relationship for you may not be a “click” but rather an evolution.

5. “Everything fizzles out after you’re married.” “Marriage is supposed to be lame.” “Your wedding is the best day of your life.”

In today’s culture, there is such a build up to THE WEDDING that it makes anything a day, months, or years later look similar to coming down from a high. Marriage is only a kick-off party to one of life’s greatest adventures. The reality is it’s supposed to fun and make you grow — be fulfilling, challenging, and exciting. Will it be like that everyday? Not necessarily, since we’re humans. However, a healthy marriage will make you evolve positively and leave you energized rather than drained. As you both grow and overcome challenges together, the team will only get stronger and the passion will only get stronger. Besides, what about the day(s) you bring a kid into the world!

To have expectations that life after marriage will be somewhat lackluster will only skew the approach to this chapter of life and lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy. Going back to #2 on the conversation about change — chances are your relationship before marriage and your conversations about marriage will be the same as your marriage. True, mature, healthy love lasts.

6. “True love is all about passion.” “Opposites attract.” “Sex/Attraction is everything.”

A healthy relationship absolutely has a fire at the heart of it but it also requires practicality. There should be a degree of “this feels like home.” Two people may have great chemistry but, if there is a lack of substance or trust, opposing values, differing views on the future, or poor communication, love or sex won’t “fix it.” It will come down to the effort of both parties. It may be helpful to consider what the common connections are within the relationship — do they all rely on physical attraction or even everyday, fun activities? Are you able to have deep conversations? If there is little to no mental or emotional connection, then maybe that’s where the relationship should be enhanced (if possible).

I had a conversation with one of my girlfriends recently regarding opposites. We discussed how balance is important in a relationship. For example, with “opposites” one person may be a bit outgoing and loud, yet the other might be more reserved. However, we both agreed that if balance is not supplemented with each person complimenting the other, then it might not be the ideal situation.

7. “Never go to bed angry.” “The less arguments you have, the healthier the relationship.”

We all have our difficult days and not everything can be resolved with a magic wand. Issues, feelings, and disagreements need to communicated and need to be talked through. As some of you wrote on our Instagram, sometimes you need time and space before you are ready to mend things. Being too hard on ourselves and our partners can add more fuel to the fire. You may be the type who needs to think, sleep, and recharge in order to be ready and willing to put effort into talking out and resolving issues. It may be helpful to communicate that you need space and then you can both agree to check back with each other at a certain time.

8. “He/She doesn’t appreciate me.” “If you love me, you should know what I want.”

This myth is one mentioned by Nathan Feiles, LCSW and psychotherapist who specializes in relationship issues. He explained to me that the assumption of one person not appreciating the other “causes a lot of problems and is usually due to a lack of positive communication more so than actually reflecting reality.” Nathan recently wrote an article on the toxicity of expectations of mind-reading — you can also read more at his blog Relationships in Balance.

The media and even well-meaning loved ones can present us with a mix of the above myths. What it comes down to is our ability to stay true to ourselves and our relationships. What realities have you come to terms with? What myths have you heard? How are you making your relationships healthier?

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