When couples seek me out for couples therapy, their stated goals usually revolves around acquiring new communication skills or improving conflict resolution strategies. While these aspirations are undeniably important, there’s a crucial process that often goes unmentioned: unlearning a lifetime’s worth of misconceptions about how relationships actually work.

Let’s start with the basic idea of falling in love. It conjures the image of a person dropping from the sky, evokes the gut-wrenching feeling of losing control, and even suggests losing part of oneself. Even individuals who willingly engage in activities like sky-diving or bungee jumping benefit from safety mechanisms that grant them a measure of control, allowing them to operate under the assumption they will walk away on solid ground. Curiously, when it comes to love, we often romanticize the idea of a proverbial fall and dismiss the need for a metaphorical parachute. In her book “all about love” (2018), bell hooks notes that “the language of having ‘fallen’ gives the illusion that one is helpless during the process. It implicitly indicates that an individual cannot be responsible for the situation, nor should they be. They have fallen, and that’s that.” In truth, creating a relationship is an intentional process, with all partners sharing accountability for its outcome. I resonate with Erich Fromm’s (2016) comments in The Art of Loving, when he suggests that instead of falling, we should strive to stand in love.

As a couples therapist, I want to address another common misconception. Namely, many people mistakenly believe that relationships become effortless when you’re with the “right” person. Our early encounters with relationships, usually through parental figures, shape our models for intimate connections. While some are fortunate enough to inherit a relatively secure relational blueprint, others bear the burden of unhelpful models that reproduce challenges in intimate relationships. I often hear couples express a determination to avoid replicating their parents’ relationship dynamics. However, it is difficult to navigate the path toward a secure and functional relationship without a clear blueprint. Co-creating the desired relationship with a partner is challenging, and that’s because it’s meant to be challenging. It is through these challenges that partners learn to grow together and forge the secure bond that they both desire.

Lastly, I want to dispel the misconception that it is healthy and/or necessary for you and your partner to agree on everything. Relationships inherently involve two distinct individuals, each possessing their own unique sets of differing experiences, tastes, and sensibilities. In fact, it’s often these differences that attract people to each other in the first place. Think about it, would you enjoy dating a clone of yourself?

During the early stages of dating, there is a tendency to overestimate similarities and underestimate differences. While this phase is undeniably exciting and lays the foundation necessary to support future relationship challenges, couples in therapy frequently complain about their partner’s differences, confusing it with incompatibility.

If I could communicate one thing to couples in the world it would be this:

Relationships are hard, and that’s not a bad thing.

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