7 Relationship Myths To Stop Believing

Photographed By Alexandra Gavillet.
It's hard to believe that not so long ago, authors were telling women to wear pink, ruffled underwear, to never complain, and to always listen to their men. "Remember your most important job is to build up and maintain his ego (which gets bruised plenty in business)," Edward Podolsky wrote in his 1943 book, Sex Today in Wedded Life. "Morale is a woman’s business."

While we may shudder at such sexist drivel today, it's safe to say there are still plenty of relationship myths out there, often propagated by sub-par rom-coms and fairytales. Last month, we chatted with therapist and relationship expert Esther Perel to talk through some of these myths — and explain why they might just be wrong. Here are all seven myths, busted.
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Photographed by Jessica Nash.
Myth #1: People in a relationship don't flirt. If they do, it means they are unhappy and looking for something else.

The Truth: "Flirting" is, by definition, not to be taken seriously. "Flirting isn’t a sign of discontent, at all,” Perel says. “There’s very little to do with flirting that is about you being unhappy with a relationship; that is a construct."

But, as is often the case, context matters. One act of flirting isn't a sign that something is wrong, but “if your partner is always flirting in front of you and not paying attention to you, that has more to do with disrespect,” Perel says. “The flirting is a way in which the disrespect is manifesting. It’s like if I’m always looking at my phone instead of talking to you.”

Casually bantering with another person at the bar is typically not a cause for concern, Perel says, but "anything we do can become problematic, depending on how we do it." It can be an innocent act, or something that comes from a larger issue — maybe disrespect of your partner, or one party's own insecurity and need for validation.

“The essence of flirting is that there is genuinely an innocence to it," Perel says. "It only becomes a problem when there is no innocence to it.”
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Photographed by Tom Corbett.
Myth #2: Honesty is the best policy.

The Truth:
How many times have we heard "I'm just being honest," following a particularly cruel, underhanded comment? Sometimes, being truthful is the most caring, respectful thing to do. Sometimes, it’s the harshest comeback — an undermining way to twist the knife. “Telling the truth can be a hostile maneuver,” Perel says. “‘I’m not attracted to you,’ ‘I think you’re a fat slob.' But, if you don’t want to be with someone, you can [be honest] in a way where they won’t hear the resonance of that in their head for years to come. That's respect.”

Nowadays, however, the idea that you must tell your partner everything is ubiquitous; couples are sharing email passwords as a message of complete transparency. “Sharing has become the ethos of perfection — 'I should be able to tell you everything'... If you don’t [open up], then you have a secret,” Perel says. "But I think it is very wise to think certain things and not say everything."

In fact, research has shown that two different types of lies have opposite effects on relationships. White lies, a.k.a. lies that protect someone’s feelings, can help strengthen a relationship. Meanwhile, lying to cover up something you did wrong — i.e. deception — will weaken a relationship. “You can’t have a blanket statement that says, 'everything out in the open is best.' But that doesn’t mean you hide affairs,” Perel explains. A little white lie to avoid hurting someone's feelings? That could go a long way to building a lasting relationship.
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Photographed by Lauren Perlstein.
Myth #3: Bad sex should always be a relationship deal breaker. It means you aren't compatible.

The Truth: There is a difference between sexual incompatibility and bad sex, Perel says. “If you have a fundamental lack of attraction to the person, [like] you don’t like the way the person smells, that can be a problem,” Perel says.

But most people experience bad sex — especially women. According to the most recent National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior, only 64% of women reported having an orgasm during their most recent sexual experience, even though 85% of men claimed their partner did. Another study analyzing data from Singles in America found that women reported climaxing 62.9% of the time, while men reached orgasm 85.1% of the time. (Of course, great sex doesn't require orgasm from either party, but orgasm is a pretty good indicator of sexual satisfaction.)

Luckily, bad sex is completely fixable, and the solution may just start with a little self-exploration. “Good sex is more self-knowledge than anything else,” Perel says. “People don’t know their own body and what they like. They know what they don’t like, but they can’t tell you what they like.”

Once you figure that out, talk about it. “Sexual communication is one of the most difficult things to do,” Perel says. “It’s about giving, taking, asking, refusing, sharing, and receiving, and that’s real communication.”
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Photographed by Lauren Perlstein.
Myth #4: Your S.O. should be your best friend.

You should probably see your partner as a friend, but your best friend? “Personally, I think if you’re asking one person to be everything to you (lover, best friend, confidante, intellectual equivalent), you are asking way too much from one person,” Perel says. “You set yourself up for an overburdened system. They’re different relationships. And generally, people don’t have hot sex with their best friend.”

Past research has found that when people consider their spouse their "best friend," they're happier and generally more successful. “But in most of the world, people have best friends and then they have their partner," Perel says. "That doesn’t mean their partner is not a best friend, too, but they also have other best friends.”

Naturally, what works for you might differ from what works for other people. “Some couples share the same interests, life, and values, and others have a much more differentiated style,” Perel says. “They have a few strong things they share, but also have their own pursuits.”
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Photographed by Lauren Perlstein.
Myth #5: Fighting is always a sign that something is wrong.

Truth: Fighting often isn't the problem in relationships — it's how you fight. John Gottman, a researcher who focuses on signs of divorce, found that couples' stability is defined by the way they interact during a fight. Do the partners turn away and dismiss each other? Or do they turn towards each other and fight with kindness? “It’s not conflict that is generally the main marker of a good relationship, as much as the issue of repair,” Perel says. “There are plenty of couples who are maybe quite volatile, but they know how to make up.”

No relationship is ever completely conflict-free. But there is a major difference between fighting to hurt and to win an argument, and fighting to fix things. “You can have very contentious couples who are tight, who appreciate each other,” Perel says. But it’s important to have that trust that you aren’t going to be hurt by your partner’s contempt or criticism. Just like with honesty, partners can criticize kindly — and get through fights stronger than before.
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Photographed by Jessica Nash.
Myth #6: Once a cheater, always a cheater.

The Truth:
Experts generally agree that "once a cheater, always a cheater" isn't a universal truth. It might only apply when the problems center on an individual, rather than the relationship as a whole. That is, studies have found that specific traits, like narcissism, risk-loving, and commintment-phobia, are all linked to infidelity. “If people are repeat offenders, it generally means that they’ve been lying about other things, too,” Perel says. “In these cases, you’re not talking about being unfaithful; you’re talking about narcissism.”

If this is the first instance of infidelity, however, and it is the only breach of trust that has occurred in your relationship, it's not a foregone conclusion that your partner will cheat again. “Some people are repeat offenders and philanderers," Perel says, "but the majority of people I work with have been quite faithful for years before they actually have an affair."

Granted, the people who would seek out relationship counseling are more likely to work towards a thriving, healthy marriage and confront the issues that caused them to cheat instead of just ignoring them. But research has found that people who score high on "agreeableness" and "conscientiousness" are less likely to cheat — and to that end, less likely to repeat the infidelity if they do.

But, if you find yourself dating someone who has cheated multiple times, it might not be that you're dating a "natural cheater," per se — you're just dating an asshole.
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Photographed by Jessica Nash.
Myth #7: To get past cheating, you must forgive and forget — or just dump the cheater.

It's rarely that simple. "People always say to leave. It's what I call the 'new shame,' where people think that if you choose to stay with someone, there's something wrong with you, that you have low self-esteem," Perel says. "But the affair is not the sum total of a whole relationship. We can't think so immediately in black-and-white. Sometimes, working things out and understanding what happened in the relationship makes the relationship more resilient."

If you do decide to give the relationship another shot, Perel says that "forgive and forget" isn't quite the right mantra. "First of all, you never forget," Perel says. "And you can forgive, but only partially at first. Forgiving is at the end of the journey."

The cheating partner has to work for forgiveness; first, work to rebuild trust. Apologize authentically, acknowledge the pain caused, and work to show that you are once more trustworthy. If you cheated, "be more reassuring than usual; make them feel they really matter," Perel says. "If infidelity tells me I'm not that special, then one of the ways to heal from that is to once again show that I do matter."

Next, figure out what went wrong. "Why did it happen; what's the meaning?" Perel says. "An affair has a meaning, a storyline — and understanding that is important for healing." Stay away from hashing out the sordid details — the when, who, where, how many times sort of questions. "Partners want questions with answers that calm, not agitate," Perel says.

In the end, if your partner cheated, it's not on you to force yourself to rebuild that trust. It's on your partner. "Two people are responsible for the state of the relationship, and one person is responsible for the affair," Perel says. "And it's very hard to forgive somebody who doesn't take responsibility."

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