Marriage & Life Partners

Five Marriage Myths Dispelled

MYTH NO. 4 — Affairs are the main cause of divorce.

While cheating always deals a serious blow to a marriage, research shows that it is not necessarily the main trigger for divorce. As common sense would predict, affairs are often the symptoms of deeper, more long-standing issues. Gottman concludes:

“While affairs can destroy the foundation of trust upon which a marriage is built, the cause of divorce typically precedes the affair. In a study from the Divorce Mediation Project, 80 percent of divorced men and women cited growing apart and loss of a sense of closeness to their partner as the reason for divorce. Only 20 to 27 percent blamed their separation on an extramarital affair.”

He has found that serious problems usually precede the affair, and loneliness, not lust, is usually the factor that draws people to affairs.

Sex researcher Esther Perel says that if a couple deals with them as “wake-up calls,” affairs set the stage for important change and growth, and even lead to a better phase in the marriage. Her latest book The State of Affairs, helps couples cope with and overcome the destructive power of cheating and turn things around.


MYTH NO. 5 — Marriages benefit from a ‘relationship contract.

Gottman says this also has been disproved by science. He says, “In 1977, researcher Bernard Murstein found that marriages oriented around reciprocity were less successful. And from what we’ve seen in our clinical work, keeping track can cause couples to keep score, which can lead to resentment. Deal making, contracts and quid pro quo mostly operate in unhappy marriages.”

In fact the paramount concept of romantic marriage is the idea that we are “one,” joined as a couple in our common goals, beliefs, and mutual caring. Though many people do keep score, it indicates that the couple is not on the same team. Most of us get married partly because we want to have someone in our corner, someone who is a safe haven, and who can be counted on to be on or side. Deal making is for the office—generosity should rule at home.

When we fall in love, we experience the beloved as part of ourselves. Brain research has found that when someone is shown a photo of their partner, the part of the brain that lights up is the same one that fires up when they are shown a photo of themselves.

Ideally, this feelings persists. Most parents experience this quite intensely in regard to their children as well. They feel certain they would die to protect them. More subtly, it is reflected in ways like my experience as a young mother when I got more pleasure from buying clothes and dressing up my baby than I did for myself. In fact, when she was dressed nicely, I felt like I was too (though as most new mothers know, that is usually not the case).

A case can be made for the transactional marriage, however. Some very successful marriages thrive on what is actually quite open and straightforward “arrangements.” While all marriages have an implicit contract, like “the deal is we will both work and contribute,” or “I won’t work as much but will take care of other things,” some are very explicit. Some marriages, for example, actively tolerate infidelity in recognition that other benefits may accrue.

These couples usually don’t have illusions about the foundation of their marriage, though. They recognize that it is a business deal. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that a romantically based marriage is like theirs: if you treat your partner like a co-worker, you just might lose your job.



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