6 Romantic Beliefs That Can Destroy Your RelationshipsMarch 3rd, 2013 by Mike
1. “We always know what the other is thinking.”
Here’s the situation: You’re out to eat with your friend and her new boyfriend. They’re sitting across from you.
Your friend beams up at her new boyfriend and coos gleefully “Oh I can always tell what he’s thinking.” She nudges him with her shoulder and throws a conspiratorial smile. He smirks awkwardly, like he’s happy and in pain at the same time. You gag a little, but hide it well with an approving smile and an affectionate head tilt.
Psychologists call this belief “Mindreading.” Mindreading is the mistaken belief that compatibility is the same thing as telepathy. It’s the idea that if you’re in love, or you’ve been in a relationship for a long time, then you should be able to basically read each other’s minds. If your partner fails to understand your perspective (after this many years!), you get upset, like they’ll never understand you and like maybe your relationship isn’t meant to be.
We resort to mindreading at the worst possible times
Have you ever walked in on your friends laughing about something? Did you make assumptions about why they were laughing? Probably not. You probably said something like “What? What’s so funny?” You knew that it would be pointless to try guess what they were laughing about, so you just asked them to explain.
We’re so quick to ask for an explanation when somebody is laughing, but when people are yelling we assume we know the reason.
The dark side to mindreading
When you regularly assume to know what’s going in your partner’s head, you give your own biases (and insecurities) greater influence on your interpretations. For example, let’s say you’re sitting on the couch with your partner watching TV when they suddenly get up and walk into the kitchen. How will you interpret their action?
If you’re feeling particularly insecure that day, you might think “Oh, they’re repulsed by me and trying to escape.” If you’re feeling lonely you might think “Ugh. They always leave when I need them.” That’s mindreading.
The fix: Always ask for verification
If instead of relying on mindreading, you directly ask them “What are you doing?” and say “I’m hungry. Just grabbing a snack.” Then, no matter what your mood, you have an accurate picture of their intentions.
2. “Men and women are so different!”
One of the greatest myths about human nature is that men and women have large inherent differences. In reality, when Psychologists study such things, men and women are extremely similar. On average, there are less Psychological differences between the average man and woman than there are between two men or between two women.
One of my favorite Psychologists, Dr. Rowland Miller, reframed the issue this way: Instead of “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” it’s more like “Men are from South Dakota, Women are from North Dakota”.
For this reason, Psychologists who study relationships advise that you largely ignore your partner’s gender, especially in arguments. There are hundreds of books professing to educate you on how to understand the other sex, but most of them are based on stereotypes and generalities that might not apply to your specific partner.
The fix: Ignore your partner’s gender (especially when fighting)
Instead of lumping your partner in with their gender stereotypes, try to understand them as a unique person, apart from their gender. And don’t be afraid to put yourself in their shoes. You may not be the same gender, but that doesn’t matter much when it comes to empathy.
You’ll be more likely to make an accurate guess about what they’re thinking by putting yourself in their shoes than by trying to figure out “the woman’s perspective” or “the man’s perspective.”
3. “We hardly ever fight.”
Conflict is inevitable in any long-term relationship, no matter how much romantic love you feel for each other. The difference between happy couples and unhappy couples isn’t whether they fight frequently or not — it’s how they fight.
If you’re insecure about your relationship, or hung up on the belief that people in love shouldn’t fight, then every fight might terrify you. An angry look on your partner’s face makes you think that they’re not satisfied with you, that they don’t love you anymore, or that you’ve done permanent damage. And if you keep looking at it that way, you’ll bring about exactly what you’re afraid of (self-fulfilling prophecies are common in relationships).
By avoiding fights (which includes scrambling to escape fights once they start), you’re effectively sweeping important issues under the rug and hoping that they’ll disappear with time. But in this case, “the rug” is your partner’s mind and “sweeping the issue under the rug” is putting the issue back into your partner’s subconscious, where it will fester and churn until it bubbles up and causes another, bigger fight.
The fix: See fights as opportunities to deepen intimacy
Instead of being afraid of fights, look at them as an opportunity to deepen you intimacy with your partner. If you handle the fight in a reasonably healthy way, you might ultimately end up better understanding your partner.
More importantly, handling a fight well proves to both of you that you can handle fights well, which boosts your confidence as a couple and makes you more likely to act reasonably in future fights.
4. “I know exactly who they are.”
Sometimes you fall in love with the idea of who you think a person is, and then get pissed off when they start deviating from who you think they are. People grow (and regress), especially over the course of the relationship, and you need to anticipate and allow for this if you want to stay happy with the relationship.
Here’s a not-at-all-fun experiment: If you’re in a relationship right now, look over at your partner and say “I know exactly who you are.” Then watch the expression that flashes across their face. It won’t be a pleasant or approving one. They may throw up a mask of affection quickly, but their initial reaction will say “Like hell you do.”
It’s fine to be in love with somebody’s core personality and person. That kind of perspective helps you put their faults and quirks in a positive context. But beyond a person’s core virtues (how they act on their best day), you should be ready to see lots of change, and to never know exactly who they are at any given moment (this enhances mystery too, which is a bonus).
The fix: Expect lots of flexibility and change
Spirituality, self-confidence, self-destructiveness, ambition, political opinions, physical attractiveness, and a million other characteristics can all change. So if you’re committed to being with a person, find something more permanent to love about them, and allow flexibility in the rest.
Here’s a fun experiment: If you’re in a relationship right now, look over at your partner and say “You grow and change so much, but I think there’s a core to you that stays permanent and lovely, and that’s why I’m here.” Then watch the expression that flashes across their face. Chances are, it will say “Thank you.”
5. “We’re destined to be together.”
Destiny does a pretty good job of introducing you to people, but everything after that is on you. If you believe that you’re fated to be with your partner, it can make you lazy. You don’t need to work at it, you don’t need to pursue them. You can just sit back and wait on Destiny to take care of it for you.
Of course, it’s normal if you’re in a good relationship (marriage) to feel like there was some greater force that brought you together. That’s not by itself unhealthy. There’s nothing wrong with feeling like Destiny brought you together, but don’t think for second that Destiny is under any obligation to keep you together.
The fix: Roll up your sleeves and fix relationship problems yourself
Don’t fall back on Destiny to help you rationalize taking an escapist attitude towards relationship problems. Don’t avoid an issue and think “If it’s meant to be, it will be.” That’s not a good problem-solving strategy. If there’s an outcome you want, put some effort in and try to make it happen yourself.
6. “If we wait until marriage to have sex, everything will be perfect.”
As a waiter-till-marriage, you’ve made a profound commitment to your future marriage, and you’ve backed up that commitment with years of willpower and sacrifice. You’re doing a very difficult, noble thing. But don’t think for a second that your decision to wait entitles you to marital happiness.
Waiting until marriage can have real benefits for married couples, and may infuse your marriage with significant advantages. But it’s not the whole battle. You are not immune to the pressures that non-waiters have in marriage, and you shouldn’t expect to be. Plus, there are some marital pressures that you’re actually more susceptible to when you wait (more on those in future articles).
The fix: Have confidence in your ability to solve relationship problems as a couple
Even if your idealism and/or spirituality led you to decide to wait on sex, try to keep your head level and humble when it comes to relationships. Thinking that God/Fate owes you the perfect relationship for waiting is dysfunctional, and will cause you all kinds of pain.
The good news is that your idealism can be a powerful force in your relationship if you direct it properly. Instead of being idealistic about your relationship’s success, be idealistic about your own ability to solve relationship problems with creativity and mutual respect when they arise.