What makes a marriage work? Open any newspaper and you’ll find yet another journalist writing about how they have uncovered the key to a long lasting marriage. If the ideas they are selling were material goods we’d all be returning them and asking for our money back before long. This is because many of the claims are not only false but potentially damaging to relationships because they can convince people that their marriage is a hopeless case when it is not. So here I attempt to uncover some of the myths about what makes a marriage work, using the expert knowledge of renowned therapist, researcher and writer John Gottman.
Myth 1. Personality hang-ups and issues wreck marriages
It has been said that personality problems and insecurities do not mix well with marriage. But research suggests this is not the case. The key to a happy marriage is not having two people with “normal” personalities, but having two personalities that fit well together. So it’s not the insecurities that threaten marriages but the way you handle them together. If you can accept each others' quirks and respond with care, affection and respect, the relationship will do well.
Myth 2. Common interests keep you together
Having a common interest is great, but only if you have a positive interaction when sharing that time. Two fitness enthusiasts may visit the gym together and spend time laughing, talking and concentrating on tasks together. Another couple may spend that time criticising how the other one chooses to work out, leaving one feeling judged and self-conscious and leaving the other feeling irritated and tense. This is certainly a time when the common interest can cause more problems than benefits.
Myth 3. A kiss for a kiss
It has been reported in the past that in good marriages all is equal. Spouses reciprocate to every kind gesture and act of love. So when one partner helps with a chore, the other contributes something of equal value. It was once thought that when this unwritten rule breaks down, so does the marriage. But, marriages with this kind of tallying up of who has done what for whom are already going wrong somewhere. Individuals who are happy with their spouse and the relationship do not keep tabs on how many times they have paid for dinner or emptied the dishwasher. Instead, they both do what they can willingly because they feel positive about their partner. It is the keeping score that suggests there may be an issue to overcome in the marriage.
Myth 4. Avoiding conflict ruins your marriage
The idea that communication will save your marriage has been talked about time and time again. But trying to talk things out is not the answer for everyone. Couples have different styles of conflict. There are those who fight frequently, those who talk things through and find a compromise and those who avoid arguments at all costs. None of these styles lead to better or longer marriages. The important part is that the style works for both partners. So if one person tends to shout things out and the other prefers to brush things under the carpet then this could lead to problems. A couple who both choose to take time out when they are feeling upset with the other and return later with all forgotten can live a long and happy life together.
Myth 5. Affairs cause divorce
Experts in this field say that in most cases it’s the other way round. A problematic marriage heading for divorce tends to lead one or both partners to look for intimate connection elsewhere. Research evidence shows that 80 per cent of divorced men and women said their marriage broke up because they lost that sense of closeness and gradually grew apart, or because they did not feel loved and appreciated by their partner.
Myth 6. Men are not biologically built for marriage
Misunderstanding of Darwin’s theory of evolution gave rise to the notion that men are at the mercy of their genes. It was suggested that men are pre-programmed to spread their seed as far and wide as possible, making them unsuitable for monogamy. At the same time it was proposed that the female of the species seeks out just one man who looks like he might provide well for their offspring. In fact, the occurrence of extramarital affairs does not depend on gender, but on opportunity. As the numbers of women working outside the home have exploded, so have the numbers of women who have affairs. According to Annette Lawson, Ph.D., of the University of California, Berkeley’s Institute of Human Development, the rates of young women having extramarital affairs now slightly exceeds those of men.
Myth 7. Men are from Mars, women are from Venus
The self-help isles are full of best-selling books that claim men and women are two different species from two different planets. This can be incredibly intimidating to someone looking for sound advice on how to improve their relationship. What these books fail to consider is that many of these alien creatures live long and happy lives together. So while gender differences can be a factor in some relationship problems, they are not the root cause. John Gottman revealed in his research that the determining factor for both men and women in whether they are satisfied with the passion, sex and romance in their marriage is, by 70 percent, the quality of their friendship.
These are just a few of the marriage myths out there in our newspapers and magazines, claiming to hold the key to a long, happy marriage. But for those struggling to make their marriage work, false information can give the wrong impression about how it might be saved. The truth is that, working on a marriage is of course hard work, but it need not seem as complex and intimidating as it is made out to be. Now we have exploded a few of the common myths about marriage, where do you go for sound relationship advice, based on research evidence by experts? I recommend John Gottman's book 'The seven principles for making marriage work,' as a starting point. Also check out the other articles in this section on relationship issues.