12 Things People Get Wrong About Relationships
Problems don't disappear, and you don't always have to be happy.
What if everything you think you know about relationships is wrong?
OK, maybe not everything—but relationships are complicated and your training is limited. Just think: How did you learn about relationships? Perhaps you picked up some tips from your parents, watching TV, chatting with friends, or good old-fashioned trial and error. Unfortunately, these sources can’t guarantee true expertise about having a healthy relationship. The result? It’s impossible to know if you’re relying on well-established fact, or well-intentioned fiction.
To set the record straight, I reached out to an all-star group of top relationship experts to get their insights. Specifically, I asked them what couples most commonly get wrong—or in other words, the myths, mistakes, and blind spots that unknowingly undermine relationships. Plus, they gave some tips for how to get it right.
Helen Fisher: Biological anthropologist, Senior Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute, and Chief Science Advisor to Match.com; author of Anatomy of Love.
Men Are Misunderstood: The pandemic produced a historic change in courtship—toward post-traumatic growth. Prior to COVID, 58 percent of singles wanted to settle down; today 76 percent want a committed relationship—and men are leading the way. People misunderstand men. In my Match.com studies on over 55,000 single Americans (not just Match members), men tend to fall in love faster and more often; they want to move in together faster, and they are more likely to believe that a "hook up" can lead to love. Today, men are far more likely to want a committed relationship within the next year. Commitment is the new sexy.
Gary Lewandowski: Author of Stronger Than You Think: The 10 Blind Spots That Undermine Your Relationship... and How to See Past Them
What is Love? It’s easy to fall in love because of intense physical attractionand passion. But making that deep passion the foundation of your relationship can be problematic because it quickly fades. For a stronger relationship, focus more on companionate love, or the ways in which your partner is your best friend—looking at factors like shared interests, the time you enjoy spending together, and mutual respect. Those are the true key to lasting love.
Damona Hoffman: Certified dating coach and host of The Dates & Mates Podcast
The Soulmate Myth: Nearly two-thirds of Americans believe in soulmates, or the idea that there is one single person who is their perfect match. While it’s a charming idea for a rom-com or fairytale, in practice, it leads people who are single to be constantly on the quest for perfection among those they date as they search for this magical "soulmate" feeling—a feeling that is ultimately unattainable. In relationships, the belief in soulmates keeps us from being willing to accept our partner’s flaws and see them as imperfect humans who are learning and growing alongside us. The reality is that there are many possible matches out there for you—and it’s really about finding someone who aligns with your values and goals for the future to partner with for this wild ride we call life.
Jaime Bronstein: Licensed relationship therapist and host of "Love Talk Live" on LA Talk Radio.
Always Happy? It’s easy to think that you have to be happy in your relationship all the time. But the truth is we're all human, and no one is happy all the time. If there is a blip in the relationship, as long as both people are willing to work through it, things can get better and you can restore your level of happiness. Relationships ebb and flow and are forever changing, so it's essential to be flexible and roll with the changes. As long as you grow together and don't grow apart, your relationship is in great shape!
Wendy Walsh: Host of the Dr. Wendy Walsh Show on iHeart Radio and the podcast "Mating Matters."
Different Ways to Love: People think that all humans feel the same when they are in love. That misconception prompts a bunch of “shoulds,” as in, "If they really loved me, then they should..." But the truth is that there are probably as many versions of love as there are people. You've got people with a secure attachment style, for whom love may feel pleasurable, peaceful, and safe—while on the other hand, you've got people with an insecure attachment style, where the excitement of love may combine with feelings of fear and anxiety. And these people may be in a relationship together! Knowing and having compassion for each other's attachment styles is the key to love. There's more than one right way to be human, and there are many ways to feel love.
Susan Winter: Bestselling author of Breakup Triage and Allowing Magnificence.
Love Equals Intuition: "If my partner loves me, they should know what's wrong." Not so. Love doesn't grant our partner telepathy. Clearly communicating our feelings is what aids our mate in understanding how to support us and our emotional needs.
Anita A. Chlipala: Author of First Comes Us: The Busy Couple's Guide to Lasting Love
Problems Don't Disappear: Couples sometimes begin a new relationship and ignore their differences, thinking, “We’ll just figure it out later.” Usually, couples think their love will be enough to get them through anything. Unfortunately, love alone isn’t enough to sustain a relationship. You and your partner need to be actively involved in figuring out if your problems are solvable or perpetual. The latter kind of problems are particularly important because they won’t go away—they will be with you for the duration of your relationship. Since differences are inevitable, it is important to have conversations about them to make sure you both feel understood, accepted, and can compromise satisfactorily. You can’t make it work with just anybody, and ignoring your differences sets you up for wasting time on the wrong fit.
Terri Orbuch: Author of 5 Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage From Good to Great and Finding Love Again: 6 Simple Steps to a New and Happy Relationship
The Passion Has Declined; Something Must be Wrong: It’s easy to think that if you’re truly in love, passion will never fade. The reality is that the decline in passion is a natural part of a relationship. It tends to be high at the beginning because everything is new and exciting. But as time goes by, you get to know your partner—and for most couples, the hot, ever-present passion decreases in intensity. You can reignite passion in your relationship by trying new, different, or arousal-producing activities with your partner.
Limor Gottlieb: Doctoral relationship researcher at Brunel University London and creator of Love-Evolved
Mindreading is a Mistake: The belief that romantic partners “should know” what we want is harmful to our intimate relationships. The truth is that romantic partners are not mind-readers, so having unrealistic expectations can only set them up for failure. Instead, try 1) Listening to your partner’s needs 2) Expressing your own needs 3) Keeping the conversation positive. Effective communication is key to both relationship and sexual satisfaction (Babin, 2013; Gottman et al., 2003).
Elizabeth Tritsch: Date attraction expert with DareToDateDifferently.
Knowledge, Not Numbers: Many people think dating is a numbers game rather than a discerning and selective process. Having clarity on the type and the direction of the desired relationship and knowing your core values can eliminate disappointment, frustration, and rejection. By being honest and upfront, both people can have what they want and feel happily connected.
Abby Medcalf: Author of Be Happily Married, Even if Your Partner Won’t Do a Thing and host of the "Relationships Made Easy" Podcast.
Keeping Score: Most couples think that communication is their biggest problem. It’s not. The real problem is competition and keeping score. We say things like, “It’s your turn to put away the dishes,” or “You need to pull your weight around here.” When you keep score in your relationship, that puts you and your partner on opposite teams. This undermines trust and erodes communication. Your partner can’t take anything off your plate, because it’s the same plate! Instead, think of yourselves as one shared resource, where draining one of you drains both of you. When you need help, add resources from outside the couple or maybe decide to just let some things slide—your relationship is more important.
Melissa Hobley: CMO at OkCupid
Meeting People is Easy! I think Hollywood is to blame a little for the perception that true love often starts with the guy (or girl) showing up out of nowhere. I talk to daters every single week and one thing I’ve noticed is that too many people aren’t prepared to put in the time and energy that it can take to meet someone great. You likely put so much time into your career; if you’re training for a marathon or just getting healthy, you’ll put a lot of time into that process; or perhaps you're really good at carving out time to volunteer or be involved in your community. But then when I ask, "How much time are you really putting into finding someone?" the answers I get are often quite lame. Carve out even 20 minutes a day to update your profile, look at folks on whatever app you're on, and send likes and messages. The data is clear—when you put more time into your dating app efforts, it pays off. Today, an estimated 50 percent of all marriages in the U.S. come from a dating app (that number is presumed to be much higher for long-term relationships). Dating is hard, of course—but putting in the time does pay off.
Relationships are tough. But they're a lot more difficult when you’re relying on bad information. Take the time to seek out more knowledge, to learn more about love, to build your skills, and strengthen your bond. Your relationship will thank you.
Babin, E.A. (2013). An examination of predictors of nonverbal and verbal communication of pleasure during sex and sexual satisfaction. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 30, 270-292, doi:10.1177/0265407512454523
Gottman, J. (1994). What predicts divorce? The relationship between marital processes and marital outcomes. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Read it on Psychology Today here.