What are your beliefs about finding love?
Thanks to society, popular culture and the media, it's likely you've come across a couple of unhealthy misconceptions about what it takes to find love, or to keep a relationship. For example, have you ever heard any of the following beliefs?
Having shared most of these beliefs at some point myself, I can relate. The problem? Each of these beliefs is dead wrong when applied to committed relationships. And letting them fly under your radar – unexamined and unchallenged – can derail your search for love.
That's because we either don't attempt what we believe to be impossible, we self-sabotage, or we give up prematurely.
So let’s examine the three biggest myths that act as roadblocks to love and find out how you can move through them.
Studies now show that despite marriage being a top goal for most adults in the Western world, fewer people are marrying. Apparently, faith in the possibility of a good marriage has plummeted, and a belief that happy marriage is blind luck has risen.
The antidote to the luck myth is to confront it with reality. Let’s consider happiness in marriage.
It’s true that the unhappily wed are more miserable than anyone else, BUT it’s also true that odds are good your marriage will actually be happier than any other living arrangement.
Despite cultural trends toward a belief that marriage is just one more lifestyle choice no different from other options, the happily wed are in fact happier than any of the other groups they’re compared to, including the single, cohabiting, divorced, widowed, or dating. That’s true in every culture where it’s been studied.
In addition to being happier, married people are also healthier, longer-lived, more sexually faithful, have less domestic violence, make more money, have better careers, and have kids that do better across the board.
So, it seems your odds of happiness in your long-term love life are much better than a coin toss, and research has discovered what exactly skills will result in a really happy union.
Here's script to confront Myth #1: "Most people get married; most marriages last; and most last happily. Finding and keeping a happy union is normal and even likely. I can learn and do the things that will make it happen for me."
Some related ideas to this one are:
Ask yourself: if we were discussing a job search, would people give you this advice?
If they did, would it be smart to heed it? Treat that advice just the same way here: well-meant, but harmful to your success. In real life, most people apply quite a lot of effort to their search – just as you’d do to find a satisfying career. Except that the benefits of marriage, for most of us, outweigh anything a career can provide.
Here's script to confront Myth #2: "I increase my odds of finding a worthy partner by actively searching, not passively waiting."
Have you heard that, or these related ideas?
Of all the myths, this one may seem like solid advice at first. It’s the one most of my clients and students say they’ve told to others, and the one they were most shocked to find is untrue. That’s partly because many people confuse the idea of needing to be happy alone with needing to love ourselves.
You do indeed need to love yourself before you can fully accept that you’re worthy of being loved by others. And it may be true that we can’t love others more than we love ourselves.
But this myth is NOT about self-love. It’s about the incorrect idea that being happy on our own is a bottom-line prerequisite for partnered love. Not so!
Despite Western beliefs that interdependence is unhealthy, the truth is that we humans need connection so very much, that we actually tend to become happier *after* we’re in a solid relationship.
Let’s confront this myth with another reality check.
First off, love is a lifelong need – from cradle to grave. That’s right. All people need love. Human infants need love so much, they literally die without it, even given adequate nutrition.
But our need for love doesn’t end there. In our adulthood, we also need committed love with an intimate partner. As adults, most people continue needing not just connection, but connection with a primary partner – for our emotional well-being and for our own survival.
Singlehood is a noteworthy danger to mental health and life itself. Men who stay single or who divorce have about six times greater odds of death from all causes each year compared to married men. Even if you consider other factors, like money and gender and whether folks were married before, singletons have many struggles that marriage appears to ease.
Research on divorce recovery also disproves the happy-alone myth.
Mavis Hetherington did yearly research on divorce in a set of 450 divorcing couples; their children; and any new partners who came on the scene. As her team gathered data on these people for 20 years, they were specifically looking at one big question: What helps adults to feel whole, integrated, and happy again after a major heartache –in this case, divorce?
Before I tell you the answer, let’s use this as an opportunity for an exercise. What do you think the answer is? Take three to five minutes now to write a list about the things you think help a person to feel whole and happy again after a significant breakup, such as divorce.
OK, let's see what science found.
In Hetherington’s research, the big takeaway was that waiting to be happy on your own is a big mistake. In fact, the only thing that repeatedly and predictably resulted in happiness and a feeling of wholeness for the adults was: a new, healthy partnership.
Did you guess it?
Instead of shaming people who want love, we should support them in their search!
Here's script to confront Myth #3: "People evolved to need people, including one special partner. It’s simply not true that we’re likely to become happy all on our own. In order to be happy, it helps to form a healthy partnership with another adult who is good for me."
Dr. Duana Welch is the original Love Factually author and coach, known for using social science to solve real-life relationship issues.
She’s been a professor at universities in Florida, California, and Texas over 20 years, and has contributed to NPR, PBS, Psychology Today, and numerous other outlets, podcasts and videos.
Her first book, Love Factually: 10 Proven Steps from I Wish to I Do, provides science-based dating advice and is out globally in five languages. The Love Factually series now includes seven books.
She works with clients from around the world in her Love Factually practice via Zoom, Skype, and other technologies.