By Rachel Vanderbilt, PhD – Relationship Doctor
~ JANUARY 2022 ~
Many of us carry around irrational or unfounded beliefs about how our relationships ought to be.
We impart these beliefs onto our partners and just expect them to intuitively know what we are thinking and feeling. “If my partner truly loved me, they would know why I am upset right now.” Similarly, we assume that we are able to accurately gauge how our partner is thinking and feeling. “My partner is only behaving this way because he is a man, and this is just what men do.”
Marital therapists have found there are several common and particularly damaging irrational beliefs that we may carry around in our relationships which impact how we feel about and interact with our partner.
1. Disagreement is destructive
Here’s the thing about conflict—it is inevitable! In romantic relationships, we become more reliant on each other to accomplish everyday tasks. As two individuals who need to navigate the world around them and coordinate our behaviors to do so, we will inevitably irritate each other, get in the way, make mistakes, hurt each other accidentally, or have differing opinions.
It is not the absence of conflict that makes a relationship thrive. Instead, it is the ability to effectively manage conflict when it appears that sets an effective foundation for relationship stability and satisfaction. Couples who are more able to manage their conflict have longer-lasting relationships, and their relationships are of better quality compared to couples who are unable to manage their conflicts. In fact, the absence or avoidance of conflict is a sign of a dysfunctional relationship.
One caveat I will add here is that people who say they never fight with their partner may be conceptualizing conflict as an overtly negative, or emotionally taxing conversation. In reality, they likely do experience conflict, but they are emotionally neutral experiences. All couples will at some point in their time together experience moments where they disagree or have different goals.
2. Mind reading is expected
It can be easy to fall into this trap in relationships where you feel as if your partner should be able to intuitively know when something is wrong and what exactly is bothering you. You may be purposefully engaging in particular behaviors that should theoretically let your partner know that you are bothered, but they seem completely oblivious to it. You may take that as a sign that they are purposefully ignoring your negative feelings.
In reality, your partner cannot read your mind. Even if it seems painfully obvious to you that you are exuding agitation with every fiber of your being, it is possible your partner isn’t noticing it. People can’t actually read minds, and we can’t assume that our partners will always be able to pick up on the vibes we’re giving off. When our partner doesn’t pick up on our frustrations, we are more likely to act aggressively toward them and use the silent treatment.
When you are upset, it is important to be direct with your partner. Try not to assume that they know you are feeling bad and that they should know why you are upset. Take the time to address concerns when they arise instead of letting them fester.
3. The sexes are different
Are men from Mars and women from Venus? Nope, we really are all just humans from Earth. Society places a huge emphasis on how different men and women are. These assumptions about how men and women behave, think, and approach relationships are based on harmful and often inaccurate stereotypes—and are frankly overblown.
In studies that look at the presence of gender differences in various relationship patterns, many find that they are artificial and don’t hold up across studies. Most find that any statistically significant gender differences that emerge in this research are quite small in size. Essentially, this means that men and women tend to approach relationships in a similar way, and have similar feelings about how a relationship ought to function.
Men and women may differ on certain perceptions of themselves and their well-being, for example, their self-esteem. But differences between men and women in how they perceive love and relationships are statistically insignificant.
It is only a hindrance to effectively communicating in our relationships to assume that our partner thinks and feels differently solely based on their gender. Take the time to talk to your partner about why they do what they do rather than assuming it is all pre-determined. On that note…
4. Our relationship is dictated by destiny
It’s not necessarily a problem to view your relationship as something everlasting. However, relationships require significant effort and work to thrive. Making the assumption that your relationship is going to last forever is a recipe for you to feel complacent about maintaining your relationship and to take your partnership for granted.
Relationships take work to thrive. Furthermore, part of the longevity of your relationship is making the choice to stay together. Every day, you should be consciously making the choice to remain in your relationship and to behave accordingly instead of assuming that things are just meant to work out. Take the time out of your day to think about how you are putting effort into your relationship.
What does this mean for your relationship?
Sometimes we aren’t aware of the beliefs that we have about romantic relationships and how they may impact the ways we behave and how we attribute meaning to our partner’s behaviors. As you start hearing yourself thinking these things about your partner, try to take a step back. Open communication about how you are thinking and feeling is the best way to get an accurate understanding between yourself and your partner. This is true for difficult topics that may lead to conflict, as well as for conversations about how you can be a more supportive partner. When in doubt, talk it out.