Liz Earle Wellbeing
Three Romantic Myths
Relationship therapist James Earl looks at the myths that can derail a relationship.
A good couple relationship should be fun, and enhance each partner’s individual growth. In the search for a relationship like this, there are several unhelpful myths which can trip us up. Here are three of them:
1. It’s good to merge!
(No, it’s really not.)
Everyone in a couple has two identities: their individual self, and as half the couple. And these two identities are in tension.
A couple moves from me, to us, and then back: from close, to less close; from autonomy, to intimacy, and so on.
The most effective and happy couples, are not ones where the individuals merge in their couple-ness, but where individual identities are retained and strengthened in the couple.
In couples that do this well, the relationship feels like a place where individual dreams and self-expression are supported by the other person, rather then held back. This is vital, if we are to feel the relationship is a good place to be.
This regulation of intimacy is evident, for example, in sharing time talking together - and then, going out with our individual friends.
But the idea of two identities is also a state of mind: where each partner understands, and enjoys the individuality of the other, as well as finding time for intimacy with them.
If we spend apart, there are several good outcomes. Firstly, morale increases: and this positivity can be brought back to the couple.
Secondly, the possibility of desire increases. It is difficult to desire someone that is always there! We desire across space. The potential for intimacy is enhanced, rather than threatened, by independence.
And the romantic myth that love should fuse us into one, is just that - a myth.
2. It’s good to make love!
(Maybe - but how about having sex?)
When we first met, we ‘just’ had sex. But we change our our language when we live with someone we love - we aspire to ‘make love’.
This is not always a beneficial switch. The idea of making love adds an emotional significance which can take away from the light-hearted and playful nature of sex. How many of us, if we are honest, find it easy to elevate the fondness, security and warmth of love, into the wildly erotic?
The pressures of family life and the routines of domesticity play their part. Many couple’s experience is that as love deepens, far from sex becoming more exciting and frequent, it becomes less exciting and less frequent.
If sex is all about expressing love, it can become a duty (‘if we’re not having sex, I don’t feel you love me.’). And dutiful sex is - well, usually dreadful. If you catch yourself saying ‘we should have sex’ or, even worse, ‘I’ll have sex to keep my partner happy’, we are maybe on the wrong track.
Love should be the whole relationship. So why not see sex as a ‘play space,’ where we take time out from the duties and responsibilities of the everyday? It can be wonderfully freeing, if you have enough trust in your partner to ask for what you want, and express yourself sexually.
This require conversation, of course, about our individual sexualities (no different from our individual tastes in music, painting or food).
And the romantic myth that sex is ‘making love’, is no help.
3. It’s good to mind-read!
(Hmmm…don’t try this at home.)
Tom asks Sally ‘how are you?’
Sally replies, ‘I’m fine.’
The answer is a little abrupt. Tom senses there is something wrong. ‘Are you sure you’re fine?’
Sally says, ‘ I told you I’m fine!’ Tom says, ‘Well now you seem cross!’ Sally says, ‘I’m cross now you keep asking!’
Tom’s antenna are twitching - it has stopped being simple concern about Sally, and become instead about his own anxiety.
What is wrong? Is it something I’ve said or done?
Now Sally has to cope with both her own mood, and Tom’s anxiety too. No wonder she is cross!
Tom might have reasoned as follows:
Perhaps I’m wrong about Sally not being fine. After all, I don’t really know how’s she’s feeling. But - assuming I’m right about her, then the subtext of Sally’s somewhat abrupt response is actually ‘ I don’t want to talk about it.’
Either way, I should take her first answer, leave her with her own feelings, and not chase her.
We tend to think that either we CAN read each other’s minds, or that we SHOULD do so, if we are in a truly loving couple. Genuine empathy, however, is giving your partner space.
It’s time to give up romantic myth that we should mind-read!