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Five myths about marriage and romantic love

Posted August 22

Marriage is worth fighting for, according to John Gottman. And he should know. He's researched the issue with thousands of couples over four decades. Few people are as published on the topic than Gottman, who is the author of "The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work" and several dozen other books, often with his wife, Julie Gottman.

Marriage is not just a piece of paper, he wrote recently on the Gottman Institute website: "The psychological and physical benefits of actually being married are enormous. After 50 years of social epidemiology, it has been established that in developed countries the greatest source of health, wealth, longevity, and the ultimate welfare of children is a satisfying and healthy marriage."

But the road to a long and happy relationship is often pitted with disagreements, different ideas on how things should go — and probably more than a few myths and misconceptions. After all, googling "love myths" returns nearly 53 million results in less than a second.

Here are a few of the most common misconceptions, according to a variety of experts:

"Love is a feeling" is also a lie, according to licensed psychologist Beverly Smallwood on thesideroad.com blog. "Yes, real love contains feelings, but those butterfly-in-the-stomach, heart-throbbing feelings ebb and flow. Love is a verb. It's about doing — even in those temporary times when you inconveniently don't have wonderful feelings to stimulate the positive action."

All conflict can be talked through. "Sixty-nine percent of marriage problems are managed rather than solved, writes Charlotte Hilton Andersen of Gottman’s research, in an article in Reader's Digest. “The common lore is that conflict avoidance is a bad thing, but it really works for a lot of people to just ‘agree to disagree,’” he told her. The trick, he added, is not to let a long-term disagreement create "gridlock" in the relationship.

Opposites attract. Writes Mandy Len Catron in the Washington Post: "The odds actually indicate that you’re most likely to get together with someone who’s a lot like you. In her book “Falling in Love: Why We Choose the Lovers We Choose,” Ayala Pines says the biggest predictor of who we love is proximity. She cites a study that found that '54 percent of the couples were separated by a distance of 16 blocks or fewer when they first went out together.' A Pew Research Center study found that, though interracial marriage is increasing, as of 2008, only 8 percent of U.S. marriages were between members of different racial or ethnic groups; interfaith marriages are also on the rise, but 61 percent of us choose spouses of the same religion. The Economist points out that we are increasingly likely to pair off according to income and education levels."

To Catron, "All of this makes sense: We like people who are like us. But psychologist Ty Tashiro argues that we should be 'rethinking our views about what really matters in a romantic partner.' He points out that personality traits (such as agreeability and kindness) have a much bigger influence on long-term happiness than demographics."

We "fell out of love." "You choose love. Love is not passive; it is an active event," Sue Johnson, professor of clinical psychology at the University of Ottawa and author of "Hold Me Tight," told Best Health magazine's Lesley Young. “You need to stay involved, and be open and engaged.”

Citing Johnson, Young writes that "securely attached people" may fight, but "they are able to turn around and talk about their feelings right away. In other words, precisely when you feel the most vulnerable and scared, you have to actively decide to take a risk and reach out to your partner, and in return try to give him reassurance... It’s the only way to secure the bond."

Love endures if you've married the “right person.” Pastor Dave Willis, co-founder of Stongermarriages.org, swats this one away in an article he wrote for Time magazine. "Our culture has fed us the myth that we all have a perfect 'soulmate' out there and if we find him/her, our passionate feelings will never fade, our disagreements will be rare or nonexistent, we’ll both want to make love with each other constantly and every day in marriage will have fairy tale bliss. When we wake up one morning and don’t have those feelings, we start to assume we must have married the wrong person and need to get out and find our real 'soulmate.' The truth is that strong marriages are built on commitment not compatibility."

A Bible verse captures what might be at the heart of a successful relationship: "Love is patient, love is kind," exhorts 1 Corinthians 13:4. "It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud."

Ben Franklin had some keen advice for married couples that might bear repeating, as well, if the goal is a long and happy life together. "Keep your eyes wide open before marriage and half shut afterward."'

Email: lois@deseretnews.com, Twitter: Loisco

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