According to our own Dr. Liz Hale, not only are these suggestions inaccurate regarding what makes a marriage successful, they can be downright damaging!
What’s the most dangerous myth out there?
Myth #1: CONFLICT MEANS TROUBLE
It’s impossible to live together with our various idiosyncrasies and not get annoyed with each other! As a matter of fact, the avoidance of conflict is one of the top causes of divorce. Every couple has approximately ten irreconcilable differences; and yet what’s labeled as the cause of divorce at the top of most divorce papers? Irreconcilable differences.
Correction: CONFLICT LEADS TO CLOSENESS
Conflict leads to closeness when it’s done well. In other words, there is a refusal to name-call, scream, verbally attack, become defensiveness, or withdraw from the conversation. When couples express anger in a way that is direct, honest, and without the belittling, there is great satisfaction once the conclusion has been reached. I encourage couples to lean into the conflict; not back away in damaging silence. It doesn’t’ mean that a break isn’t good; where one of you calls it and you both agree to cease and return in an hour so tempers can calm. Bottom-line, we must simply learn how to fight well!
Myth #2: NEVER GO TO BED ANGRY
Many of us have bought into the belief that if we don’t settle every little dispute in the moment it arises, all that unresolved conflict will fester within us, keep us tossing and turning all night and cause us to groggily stumble into the morning, vulnerable for a major explosion over an uncapped tube of toothpaste! The idea that it’s helpful for couples to air their grievances in the very moment they occur is by far the most damaging “advice.” Often nothing gets resolved when our hearts are pounding, our concentration is shot and we’re out to win the argument!
The reality is that most couples don’t resolve anything well when they’re angry.
Correction: SLEEP ON IT
Rather than stay up debating over the disagreement, agree to put it to bed and decide upon on a time when you can address your individual concerns. Conflicts are best dealt with when you have calmed down and are well-fed and well-rested. The habits we create in marriage build a stable or unstable foundation. A helpful habit to instill, regardless if you’re exhausted or furious, is to kiss goodnight for six seconds! Kissing reminds you of your enduring affection and what is good in your marriage. So, even its’ for six nanoseconds, you’ll soften your hearts towards each other, preparing yourselves for a more restful sleep.
Myth #3: COMMON INTERESTS KEEP YOU TOGETHER
If common factors were truly important to a long-term successful marriage, then couples who meet and marry through matchmaking websites and services, which frequently pair couples according to numerous points of compatibility, would have lower divorce rates than those who meet randomly. But they don’t.
Correction: HARD WORK & MUTUAL RESPECT KEEPS YOU TOGETHER
If you look closely at most happily married couples, you’ll be amazed at how little in common they really have. Shared interests and similar temperaments offer no assurance that a marriage will last through the centuries. A woman who chooses to spend every extra hour of her life doing crafts and hobbies may be married to a man who is the most ardent sports fan ever. Yet they discover ways to honor their own and each other’s individuality. Her craftiness is as important to him as his sports; and vice versa. They insure that the other is happy and content with what that partner deems important. Sometimes she even knits on the sofa to keep him company while he enjoys the Jazz game. He compliments her on her craftiness and she enjoys his enthusiasm for basketball.
Myth #4: IF THE SPARK IS GONE, SO IS THE MARRIAGE
We may understand intellectually that that we can’t always feel that over-the-top head-over-heels kind of love, but too many couples fall victim to the belief that if the spark dies out then they’re in the wrong relationship and they’re off seeking something better. There is nothing headier than a new relationship….the only problem with that is that you have to keep starting over, again and again, because that kind of heightened hormonal state cannot last.
Correction: SATISFYING INTIMACY COMES FROM BEING KNOWN
Long-term, happily married couples have worked hard on making alife together, raising children, managing disagreements, illnesses, and maybe even surviving an affair. They are successful because they understand they’re a team, and they find ways to come together, whether in good times or bad. True intimacy is knowing and being known by another. Long-term commitment thrives on safety and trust. Fireworks are not enough and neither is the feeling of love to keep a marriage together. I once worked with a client who was a fireman. He was recovering from his wife’s affair and he used this wonderful analogy: while a flame is bright and hot, the red embers underneath the rubble are even hotter and will remain long after the flame burns out. Nothing can create the foundation for a more enjoyable intimacy than really knowing each other.
The idea that midlife couples put sexual intimacy to rest isn’t true either. Many couples actually report that intimacy improves over the years. Once they have maneuvered through the minutia of early pit-falls and trials and errors of young married life, they better understand themselves and each other, including life in the bedroom. A study out of Britain reported that 64% of married women surveyed stated that even after menopause their sex lives either stayed on a good steady course or improved!
Myth #5: EMPTY NEST MEANS EMPTINESS
It’s true that some couples have let their feeling of togetherness die amidst the bustle of raising a busy family. Then, it’s not the children leaving that somehow make the marriage empty. It’s already been running on empty, and when the last child leaves, the couple finally notices they’re living separate lives.
Correction: MARRIAGES FLOURISH IN FREEDOM
When children move out, keep your marriage central and your lives full. Make lists of what you can both do now that you couldn’t before whether it’s traveling to Thailand or having sex on the sofa. After an adjustment period, most couples report an increase in marital satisfaction. Spouses embrace more leisure time, more money, and more freedom to re-engage with each other. And without the kids, there is usually less contention.
As your children leave home and become more independent, look forward to starting new chapters in your lives. This could be the best time of your married life!