Graham, a licensed Traverse City therapist with more than 25 years of counseling and teaching experience, says a big problem she encounters with couples is their heads are full of myths, misconceptions and unrealistic ideas about love and relationships. The reason these myths and misconceptions exist is that people dont really know themselves very well and therefore dont understand why they do the things they do (or dont do the things they should do).
Most relationship problems involve what Graham calls the big three, which are money, sex and religion. Our ideas regarding the big three are deeply rooted in our family of origin, or in other words, the environment we grew up in. And while Graham agrees some of these ideas can be gleaned from the popular media, the most seminal, rooted ideas come from those tender first years of our lives. To complicate matters, many of these beliefs can sometimes be subconscious and sabotage our relationships behind our backs.
As human beings, we live what we learn, says Graham. Like it or not.
Some of the more common relationship misconceptions Graham has encountered throughout her years of practice are:
Married couples are supposed to spend every waking moment together.
Married couples should never fight or disagree especially in front of the children.
Every day should be as romantic as the first day you met.
Sex is not that important.
Men and women should communicate the same way.
Other people have perfect mates, why dont I?
PAIN OF PERCEPTION
Graham herself was guilty of holding the misconception that married people shouldnt argue or disagree with one another, as her parents - who are still married -- never did. Graham took this myth into her first marriage and discovered later that her mother had often been down in the basement crying bitterly over the pain of not being able to disagree in front of the children. What Graham had perceived as the right way to be, was in reality very destructive and placed a heavy toll on her marriage.
To find out if you have a misconception or two, you have to get to know yourself better. Graham says to sit down and put some thought into what your truths are regarding the big three. You should also make a list of things you are not willing to compromise on, such as having or not having children. Also helpful is to envision your life in five years, 10 years and even further down the road. Then share all of this information with your spouse or significant other to let him or her know who you really are. If there is a conflict, explore it and analyze it without laying blame. It may be that certain portions of your ideas on love and marriage are unrealistic and need to be altered and then again, perhaps the person you are involved with is riddled with misconceptions. There is only one way to find out dig deep.
Honesty is crucial in any serious relationship, Graham stresses. Dont be afraid to lose your partner if he or she is in complete opposition to your truths or life plans. Believe me, in these instances it is always hurt now or hurt later and the hurting later, after marriage and children, is always much worse.
ONE DATE AT A TIME
For those who are dating, Graham also says it is helpful to stop thinking in terms of life-long partner. She suggests you stay in the moment and take it one date at a time, for a long time. Really analyze yourself and question why it bothers you, for instance, if your date has a bald spot or hates to cook. These may be red flags that you are harboring unrealistic ideas. Above all, dont judge by appearances, because it is a well-known fact that sexuality and attraction come from the intellect.
If you are married and are having problems, Graham says to be prepared to shoulder at least 50% of the blame.
When an someone comes to me for help with their relationship, I always start with them and leave their mate out of it, Graham says. I tell them there are no perfect people or relationships and then ask them to figure out what half of the problem they are responsible for.
This is a difficult task for most because all humans naturally seek to place the blame elsewhere. Once, however, a client has accepted the idea of being partially to blame, then, says Graham, she is able to move in and work on the problem, which can sometimes be a relationship myth or misconception.
Usually the biggest obstacle to overcome is this idea of a perfect relationship or mate. Graham claims most relationships are dysfunctional in one way or another. Her job is to figure out the level of dysfunction then identify the source (or sources, as the case may be).
I work a lot on acceptance of individual differences and focus on gratitude for what we have, says Graham. I also try to replace negative thoughts with positive ones.
On a positive note, Graham states that many relationships can be improved by doing a few simple things such as treating your spouse the way you would like to be treated. Or try to think in terms of what you can do to make your spouses life better. Above all, dont keep track of all the little transgressions your partner has committed. Only keep track of what you do. Graham claims that the age-old adage of what goes around, comes around is especially true for love relationships.
The most crucial step of this process, however, is to be willing to examine yourself with a critical eye. Is there a Cinderella myth lurking somewhere deep in your psyche or perhaps theres a macho-man misconception bullying your subconscious around. The good news is you can learn to re-create a new definition of love and therefore develop a healthy, mutually-rewarding relationship.
Want to learn more? Graham will be presenting a free lecture on the topic of relationship myths and misconceptions at 7 p.m., Thursday, Feb 12, in Pavilion Rooms 8 and 9 at Munson Medical Center in Traverse City. Call 1-800-662-6766 for more information.