It’s a sad truth that our culture provides very little accurate education that would help people navigate the tricky road of relationships. Like sex, we’re expected to jump into this arena of intimate love, the place that calls up all of our shadows, demons, and fears more than anything else, and know what we’re doing. Nobody knows what they’re doing. If you’re lucky, you grew up witnessing the positive role-model of your parents’ marriage, but that’s rare. If you’re like most people, you’ve armed yourself with dysfunctional messages absorbed from mainstream culture and are just holding on for the ride.
The following are the five most common thinking errors I hear from clients in my therapy practice, mistakes that sometimes cost them their relationship and certainly their ability to thrive. What we all needed was a class in high school about intimate relationships, but in lieu of that even just a few words of accurate information can set you on a healthier course as you dive into this most courageous and sometimes treacherous aspect of human life:
1. Believing that your aliveness is your partner’s responsibility.
Our culture, which is predicated on the fantasy of romantic love, posits that once you meet “The One,” you will be lifted out of your misery or boredom and exalted into a state of perpetual happiness. So, it’s easy to believe that it’s your partner’s job to make you feel joyful and whole. While a healthy relationship can certainly bring joy, it’s not your partner’s job to fill in your empty places. That’s your job and yours alone, and until you accept responsibility for your emptiness, pain, or boredom, problems will inevitably ensue in the relationship.
2. Believing that relationships should be easy.
There’s nothing easy about being in a long-term intimate partnership. Some relationships are easier than others and there will certainly be times in every relationship where you float along in calm waters and even enjoy the restful state of an eddy, but inevitably the waters will flare up again and you’ll find yourself sputtering in the rapids. If you know this, you’ll find it a lot easier to accept. Resisting the hard times and seeing them as evidence that something is “wrong” or that you’re with the “wrong” person only entrenches the difficulties. By contrast, finding the willingness to view the challenges as an opportunity to learn will give you the energy and fortitude you need to continue to move forward and grow your relationship to the next level.
3. Failing to understand that secrets are lies.
Trust is the foundation of a relationship, and when trust is broken it takes time and willingness on the part of both partners to repair it and heal. All too often, I’ll hear a client say something like, “I didn’t tell him but I didn’t lie about it, either.” This statement is a contradiction, as omissions are lies. If you’re covering up your tracks in any way, it’s only a matter of time before the truth is revealed and trust in the relationship is broken.
4. Failing to understand that broken trust can be repaired.
When trust is broken, which happens in nearly every long-term relationship at some point, it’s essential to understand that it can be repaired, provided that both people are willing to do the hard work of self-growth. In fact, it’s at this time, when it feels like the solid bedrock of your relationship has crumbled into sand, that you’re being given an opportunity to shed the patterns and dynamics with each other that haven’t been serving you. It’s painful work and a painful time, and the impulse will be to leave, especially if you believe that broken trust cannot be repaired. But if you understand that trust levels rise and fall over the course of a lifetime you’ll be more likely to find the strength to hang in and hang on.
5. Failing to carve out quality time for your relationship.
Relationships are like any other living entity: they require dedicated time in order to thrive. It’s easy to allow life to take over, especially when you have young children, work, and a body that needs nourishing food and exercise. But your relationship is a body as well, and if it’s not watered with quality time every week, it will start to wither. Make time every week to focus only on each other, and time every day to pour even just a few minutes of quality interaction into your partner’s heart.