Is Your Relationship In Trouble? Take The Quiz 7 Myths About Marriage How To Spot The Warning Signs

Everywhere we look these days we see love or its devastating fallout. Social media bombards us with memes and posts coming from every direction. Almost every show or film includes these themes in their character story arcs. It transcends and affects our lives in so many pivotal ways. 

“We live in the shelter of each other”

A famous Celtic saying speaks volumes about human nature and our emotional need to love and be loved. Our lives truly revolve around love and the often overwhelming feelings of heartbreak, sadness, loneliness and anger; and on the polar opposite end, we experience elated hormone-driven highs with powerful feelings of passion, happiness, joy, and excitement. We build our lives around these feelings and relationships. It affects almost every decision we make. Whether a small indistinct decision that creates tiny ripples in the water or making a life-changing decision with lasting effects and implications on our lives that form into a tsunami which then affects the entire trajectory of our lives. All for love. Our most intimate relationships play a heavier role in our lives than we realize. So what happens when our “safe place to fall” begins to crumble? 


We live in a World that promotes and drives as little human contact as possible. The number of people isolating themselves continues to grow, with the pandemic only serving to intensify this form of social isolation. “The majority of folks of a 2006 National Science Foundation survey reported that the number of people in their circle of confidants was dropping, and a growing number stated that they had no one at all to confide in. As the Irish poet John O’Donohue put it, There is a huge and laden loneliness settling like a frozen winter on so many humans.” (Johnson, 2008, p.14). 


Has loneliness settled into your relationship? Are you feeling disconnected from your partner? Are old wounds creating explosive arguments that are affecting your ability to move on together and communicate effectively and express your true feelings like you once did? Are you feeling hurt and misunderstood by the one person who you could always count on and always ‘got you’? 


Let us first begin by debunking some common myths about marriage. In the bestselling book by Dr. John M. Gottman and Nan Silver, top researchers in the field, the Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country’s Foremost Relationship Expert, Gottman explores one of the largest misconceptions we hear, “the notion that you can save your relationship just by learning to communicate more sensitively is probably the most widely held misconception about happy marriages- but its hardly the only one. Over the years, I’ve found many other myths that are not only false but potentially destructive. They are dangerous because they can lead couples down the wrong path or, worse, convince them that their marriage is a hopeless case. Among these common myths: 

Neuroses or personality problems ruin marriages

Research has found only the weakest connection between run-of-the-mill neuroses and failing at love. The reason: We all have issues we’re not totally rational about. We call these triggers ‘enduring vulnerabilities’…They don’t necessarily interfere with marriage if you learn to recognize and avoid activating them in each other. For example, Sam has a problem dealing with authority- he hates having a boss. If he were married to a controlling partner, the result would be disastrous. But instead, he is happily married to Megan, who treats him like an equal and doesn’t try to dominate him. 

Common interests keep you together

That all depends on how you interact while pursuing those interests. If a husband and wife who love kayaking are able to glide smoothly down the water together, their mutual hobby enriches and deepens their fondness and interest in each other. But if their travels are punctuated with “That’s not the way to do a J-stroke, you idiot!” then pursuing this common interest is hardly benefiting their marriage.

You scratch my back and…

Some researchers believe that what distinguishes good marriages from failing ones is that in good marriages spouses respond in kind to each other’s positive overtures. When one helps out with a chore, the other intentionally reciprocates, and so on. In essence, the couple function with an unwritten agreement to offer recompense for each kind word or deed. In bad marriages, this contract has broken down so that anger and resentment fill the air. By making the floundering couple aware of the need for some such “contract,” the theory goes, their interactions could be repaired. But needing to keep a running tally of who has done what for whom is really a sign of trouble in a marriage. Among happy spouses, one doesn’t load the dishwasher just as payback because the other cooked but out of overall positive feelings about the partner and the relationship. If you find yourself keeping score about some issue with your spouse, that suggests it’s an area of tension in your marriage. 


Avoiding conflict will ruin your marriage

Plenty of life-long relationships happily survive even though they sidestep confrontation. Never in 40 years of marriage have Alan and Betty sat down to have a “dialogue” about their relationship. Neither could tell you what a validating statement is. When Alan gets annoyed at Betty, he turns on ESPN. When Betty is upset with him, she heads for the mall. Then they go on as if nothing happened. Yet they declare that they are very satisfied with their marriage and love each other deeply, hold the same values, love to fish and travel together, and wish for their children as happy a married life as they have shared. Couples simply have different styles of conflict. Some avoid fights at all costs, some argue a lot, and some are able to talk out their differences and find a compromise without ever raising their voices. No one style is necessarily better than another- as long as the style works for both people. 

Affairs are the root cause of divorce

In most cases, it’s the other way around. Problems in the marriage that send the couple on a trajectory to divorce also send one (or both) of them looking for intimate connection outside the marriage. Trysts are usually not about sex but about seeking friendship, support, understanding, respect, attention, caring, and concern. In one of the most reliable surveys ever done on divorce, by Lynn Gigy and Joan Kelly from the Divorce Mediation Project in Corte Madera, California, 80 percent of divorced men and women said their marriage broke up because they gradually grew apart and lost a sense of closeness, or because they did not feel loved and appreciated. Only 20 to 27 percent of couples said an extramarital affair was even partially to blame. 


Men are not biologically “built” for marriage

A corollary to the notion that affairs cause divorce, this theory holds that men are philanderers by nature and are therefore ill-suited for monogamy. But whatever natural laws other species follow, among humans the frequency of extramarital affairs does not depend on gender so much as on opportunity. Now that many women work outside the home, their rate of extramarital affairs has skyrocketed. According to research by British sociologist Annette Lawson, formerly of the University of California, Berkeley, since women have entered the workplace in massive numbers, the number of extramarital affairs of young women now slightly exceeds those of men. 


Men and women are from different planets

According to a rash of best-selling books, men and women can’t get along because males are “from Mars” and females “from Venus.” However, happily married heterosexual couples are also “aliens” to each other. Gender differences may contribute to marital problems, but they don’t cause them. 

The determining factor in whether wives feel satisfied with sex, romance, and passion in their marriage is, by 70%, the quality of the couple’s friendship. For men, the determining factor is, by 70%, the quality of the couple’s friendship. So men and women come from the same planet after all” (Gottman et al., 2015, p.16-19). 


What are some signs that you are headed for trouble? Here are some questions that might help you decide whether it's time to call a therapist

Are you experiencing strong feelings of contempt for your partner? 


Are you constantly criticizing your partner or being frequently criticized in statements like “you always” or “you never”? 


Are you or your partner constantly defensive with one another? 


During a fight or disagreement do either you or your partner experience a fight-or-flight stress response that we therapists call flooding? Heart pounding, sweating, dizziness, etc. This type of flooding is a red flag that either you or your partner are experiencing severe emotional distress and if it isn’t resolved it can make it impossible to deal with the issues you are actually arguing about. 


How would you rate your marital problems on a scale of 1-10? 


If the number is 7 or higher, how long has it been this high, this severe? 


Have you resigned yourself to dealing with problems on your own? 


Have you given up, and decided that it’s completely useless to try to talk to your partner to resolve the issues?


Do you tend to have inescapable or pervasive negative thoughts about your relationship? 


Are you leading separate parallel lives as opposed to a life together with emotional intimacy? 


Have you or your partner rewritten good memories and now view them as bad memories? 


Gottman shares his findings about Bad Memories: 


“When a relationship gets consumed by negativity, it’s not only the couple’s present and future life together that are put at risk. Their past is in danger, too. When I interview couples, I usually ask about the history of their marriage. I have found over and over that couples who are deeply entrenched in a negative view of their spouse and their marriage often rewrite their past. Based on their answers to questions about their early courtship, their wedding, their first year together, I can predict their chances of divorce, Even if I’m not privy to their current feelings…[and] when a marriage is not going well, history gets rewritten- for the worse” (Gottman et al., 2015, p.47). 


If answering these questions has highlighted that perhaps a little TLC may be beneficial for your relationship please know that no matter how difficult things may be right now, there is always hope. If each of you are genuinely committed to healing the pain and resolving the issues affecting your relationship there can be a very positive outcome with the right therapist who is trained to help you get through this challenging time and heal these emotional wounds affecting your relationship. Research demonstrates that couples can get back to a healthy place of deep respect and friendship which is the very foundation of rediscovering those feelings of romantic love. Far too many couples simply walk away without a fight and spend years regretting this decision. A trained therapist can help you resuscitate your marriage and help both parties work through the issues that are having a negative impact on your life. 


Can you remember the feelings you felt when that beautiful tsunami hit? Are you ready to find your way back to that love and friendship you once shared? Perhaps it’s time to make that call?