The old adage may go that men are from Mars and women are from Venus but everyone knows there really are some language barriers that all relationships face, whatever their gender structure.
After all, love is messy and complicated and with the ups, come the downs. And sometimes what we think we know – stereotypical advice like “opposites attract” – is anything but helpful.
“There can always be exceptions to the rule, but successful couples generally have a lot in common in terms of shared interests and values,” says psychologist and cognitive behavioral therapist Dr. Becky Spelman.
So to bust our own preconceived notions of what works, we asked relationship experts to help us navigate our way around what makes long-term relationships successful – and got them to reveal their most surprising lessons about love.
Myth: Old-Fashioned Romance Is Dead
While dating apps have made it exceedingly easy to turn our romantic life into an indefinite series of hookups rather than anything everlasting, old-fashioned courting still holds the key to lasting love, according to family therapist Dr. Juliana Morris, PhD.
I believe part of that progression will be redefining the age-old process of courting
“We live in an era where we’re no longer pressuring people to stay in loveless or problem marriages because financial equality is more common now and gay marriages are becoming increasingly easier to have access to.
“We are transitioning to a time where people have more choices to live a life where having a deep and meaningful commitment is supported and sought after,” she says.
“I believe part of that progression will be redefining the age-old process of courting, commitment and fulfilling partnerships.”
Myth: It’s Them, Not You
When you’re upset it’s easy to complain without any goal in mind – but communication works best when you can identify something you want to change and vocalize it to your partner.
Most couples who have entrenched conflicts have a hard time answering the simple question: ‘what do you want or need instead of that?’
“Communication is most effective when led with what you want as opposed to what is wrong or what you don’t have yet,” says Dr. Morris.
“We often lead with personal attacks, cemented generalizations and criticisms. I spend a great amount of time with couples teaching healthier communication skills because couples need to see conflict more like a negotiation rather than a sport. Conflict must serve a uniting purpose and have an end.
“I teach couples to talk with their partner in terms of what they want specifically and concretely which means they must know what they really want instead of just complaining in general.
“Most couples who have entrenched conflicts have a hard time answering the simple question: ‘what do you want or need instead of that?'”
Myth: Compromise Is Key
Arguably the most cliched relationship trope is believing the other person will change – or that you can be the instrument for that change.
At the end of the day you have to accept the person you’re with as they are
But you’re more likely to be successful at changing habits than ingrained personality characteristics (think promising to put the dishes away more often vs being an eternal optimist).
Persia Lawson, love coach, motivational speaker and co-author of The Inner Fix advises “while compromise is important, at the end of the day you have to accept the person you’re with as they are – and if you can’t, perhaps this isn’t the right relationship for you after all.”
Myth: Time Together Brings Closeness
A survey by Team Sport of 1,000 coupled-up adults found that for almost a third of them, spending time with their friends made them happier. One in 10 said they’d like to spend more time with their friends, and one in 10 also said they feel tense and frustrated when they don’t spend enough time alone.
I’ve never had a couple tell me it didn’t revitalize their relationship and themselves individually.
“I recommend that couples have a day each week dedicated to time away from their partner,” Dr. Morris advises. “Couples often say they can’t do it every week but I require it and insist they try for six weeks.
“I’ve never had a couple tell me it didn’t revitalize their relationship and themselves individually. I recommend the couple check in with each other every couple of months about how it feels for both.
“Are there any resentments of money, time or activities involved with it? Do they have suggestions for each other? Do they have positive observations about how it is going?
“The last key component is that this remains consistent weekly and isn’t done here and there or one partner does it but the other one doesn’t. Both need to do weekly, both need to value it and both need to encourage and support the other’s efforts to maintain the spirit of it.”
Myth: Dinner And A Movie = Date Night Success
It’s easy to fall into the old dinner-and-a-movie date idea. But doing exciting things together can save your relationship.
It’s a concept called emotional contagion, where excitement from any source will be associated with the person you’re with, even if they’re not the cause of it.
The purpose is to remind you of things you may take for granted in each other, to be in an environment that makes appreciation of each other easier
But Dr. Morris tells us trying something that highlights the unique skill set one of you has can be equally as sexy.
“Often people are told to plan dates that are either filled with adventure or are new to both partners. These are great but adding dates that combine skill strengths of each partner is important, too,” she says.
“The purpose is to remind you of things you may take for granted in each other, to be in an environment that makes appreciation of each other easier and to give you an opportunity where you can step back and applaud something your partner is good at outside of the context of everyday life.
“I suggest partners switch strength skills too and really get a feel for how lucky they are that his/her partner can do something well they can’t.”
Myth: He Has The Higher Libido
Perhaps surprisingly, relationships are harder to manage when it’s the woman who has a higher libido than her male partner rather than the other way around.
The more highly-sexed partner is often the woman
“When there’s a significant libido mismatch, with one person wanting more sex than the other, the more highly-sexed partner is often the woman,” Dr. Spelman explains, “and this can be even harder for men to cope with than it is for women when things are the other way around.”
Myth: It’s Just The Two Of You
Relationship and marriage guidance counselor Christina Fraser says that things are never the way they appear on the outside. How we react to our partners is learned over time, usually from other areas of life.
“It’s important to ask people what’s going on underneath about family issues or about their school life etc because hidden messages go in all the time. And they get played out in intimate relationships, so you really cannot sometimes understand what’s going on within your own relationship as it goes deeper than that.
“Try to think, ‘where have I felt like this before? Where does this message come from? Why do I react so strongly to something in my partner that I would let go with somebody else? And you may find the deeper root of your issue – I deal with this in therapy sessions a lot.”
Myth: Being In Love Is Paramount
“Knowing you are liked by your partner is as important as being loved,” Dr. Morris states. “We place a lot of importance on when and how to tell our partners that we love them. But an equally significant factor is letting your partner know how much you like him or her.
“Literally say those words and also make efforts to tell other people in front of your partner how much you like him/her as a person.”
Myth: Happiness Is Everything
Yes, relationships are supposed to make you happy. But only to a certain extent. No one thing can be relied on for happiness 100% of the time – especially your partner.
“If you are happy 80% of the time in your relationship – you’re doing really well,” says Lawson.
Myth: Complacency Is Normal
“Flirting is a fun part of getting to know each other but some of my favorite couples get that flirting is fun in the beginning and then turns crucial during the long-term part of the relationship,” Dr. Morris reveals.
“Happy long-term couples naturally love, like and lust – and flirt actively throughout their relationship.”
Myth: Making Out Is For Beginners
“A happy sex life is a critical key to a happy relationship for sure and how the couple interacts sexually is really key. While intercourse is often the focus of this element, I always ask couples about their kissing,” says Dr. Morris.
The forehead kiss connects spiritually and is a tender exchange, passionate kisses ignite sexual energy and connection while pecks remind each other of your commitment to each other
“Do they like kissing each other? How do they kiss each other? How often? The art of kissing can be lost sometimes when it’s actually a crucial emotional and intimate bonding time for a couple.
“The couple should focus on all kinds of kissing and incorporate all of it into their interactions with each other.
“The forehead kiss connects spiritually and is a tender exchange, passionate kisses ignite sexual energy and connection while pecks remind each other of your commitment to each other.”
Myth: Good Relationships Are Easy
“Somewhere along the way, the myth of a great love relationship was characterized by initial fireworks and then a lifetime of ease with each other,” Dr. Morris tells us. “But this is not true.”
“Some of the best loves I know have fought hard to stay with each other, to beat the odds, to weather big storms and to accept differences. They are so committed and have so much natural love for each other that they work like hell to maintain it, protect it and rebuild it if/when it is hurt.”