I just re-read the book “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley because my niece in Germany had an English exam on that topic and I had volunteered to help her prepare for it. This novel, published in 1932, is a dystopia in which a world government completely controls all citizens from the moment of their conception in a test tube to the moment they die alone and drugged up. There are no mothers, fathers or spouses, and emotional ties of all kinds are frowned upon. The methods used to control the population are “genetic engineering”, “sleep conditioning” and the happiness drug “soma”, which turns the workers of different casts into willing laborers for a consume oriented society.
One of the questions which came up in the discussion with my 17-year-old niece was what signs of social conditioning she sees in our society today, especially regarding our relationships. We spoke about different ways of conditioning through our society, parents, peer groups, the education system, the media, popular culture, religion and so on. Once I named a few examples, she realized that no social group, no matter how liberal, democratic or tolerant, exists without training individuals to think and respond in a manner generally approved by the respective society.
In contrast to Huxley’s dystopia, we have the freedom to examine and question our conditioning, and we have the freedom to change those learned beliefs, and conditioned emotional responses and desires, if we so choose. However, analyzing and changing our conditioning is not always easy. We have been programmed to believe and hence feel that we are a failure if we don’t look a certain way, make X amount of money, have what is called a “successful career”, and are not in the societally expected relationships at a certain age. That idea of being a failure can literally paralyze us and keep us stuck in the social conditioning that is to blame for the feeling of not being “good enough” to begin with.
Anne is depressed because she has been struggling with her weight all her life. Martin is beating himself up because he has been out of a job for the past year and he wishes he had made other professional choices when he was younger. Laura is 30 and feels like a failure because all her friends are married. Peter is angry because he works long hours but still cannot afford the lifestyle his brothers have. Marie is a 38-year-old midwife who has been struggling to conceive for the past six years. Frank is a 68-year-old widower and is convinced he won’t be able to find a new partner. Lisa is 59 and ashamed to be alone since her husband of 25 years has left her for a younger woman. And this list goes on and on. There is an incredible amount of suffering in our society when we don’t manage to meet the norms we have been conditioned to meet.
In fact, our Inner Critic voice can always find something to criticize because it is literally impossible to meet the societal standards for success in every single way. The conditioning of how we should think, feel, act and what goals or relationship markers we should have reached at arbitrary points in our life has a strong hold on us. As a belief-change and relationship coach, I come across limiting beliefs every day. Today I want to highlight a few about love and committed relationships.
In “Brave New World”, committed relationships or marriages do not exist, instead “everyone belongs to everyone else”. Family, monogamy, and romantic notions are highly discouraged and regarded as a crime against the state. Promiscuity is in this future world the only way to interact with the members of your own caste. Citizens are given the happiness drug soma to relieve their depression about being lonely or insecure.
It is so obvious how the citizens of Huxley’s dystopia are manipulated and conditioned about love and relationships. Yet, what beliefs have we learned about love and relationships?
Here are ten of the top myths:
- Love is all you need to make a relationship last
Long-term relationships go through different stages. What is essential at every stage is to adapt and work with what life brings us. We start out with the honeymoon phase, but that is not supposed to last. It is just supposed to bring us together. Instead, love ideally matures more and more with each new phase. A book that describes this with beautiful metaphors is Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s “Gift from the Sea”.
- Good relationships don’t require work
Absolutely all relationships require ongoing attention, successful communication and the willingness to work through issues together. Or as Carroll Bryant says: “Love is a two-way street constantly under construction.”
- If my partner really loved me…
Those beliefs that start with “If my partner really loved me…” are another trap we fall into, e.g. If they really loved me, they would know what I feel/want/need. Our partner is not a mind reader. For a successful relationship, we need to learn to express our feelings and needs.
- He/she will change if I just keep trying to change them
It is completely impossible to change your partner! You only end up in a tug of war. In fact, focusing on how the other person should change keeps you stuck in your problems. Instead, a successful relationship is all about the question “How can I change? What is going to be required of ME to create a better relationship?”
- Couples in good relationships don’t argue
Many people still believe that conflicts in a relationship are a bad sign. Relationship scientist and expert John Gottman has proven that arguments are not the problem, but that how couples argue can destabilize a relationship. We want to practice how to deliver and receive criticism successfully and learn how to argue with less defensiveness and without stonewalling or showing contempt for our partner.
- Couples should have sex x-number of times per week/month
You should not compare yourself to other couples. Whatever amount of sex you both are comfortable having is exactly the right amount. Getting too stuck on average numbers when it comes to having sex, distracts from the actual problems which might be behind changes in the sexual desire. The desire to be intimate is about making time to connect and be vulnerable with each other. If a couple has a huge discrepancy between how often each partner wants sex, that is an issue to work through with a coach or therapist.
- True love is all about passion
I have seen people leave a perfectly good marriage because they felt it was lacking the passion. Often that meant that they have exchanged one stale relationship with one that is exciting but filled with drama and jealousy. Love can be both, passionate and safe. A solid relationship has achieved the right balance for a couple and their individual needs for passion.
- If we are struggling in our relationship it means we made a wrong choice and are just not destined to be together
Every couple goes through ups and downs. Every relationship is a constant dance between closeness and distance that we need to navigate. A belief like “every relationship has a shelf-life and ours must be over” gets in the way of putting in the work which every relationship requires.
- Talking about my past wounds will only make them worse
You cannot change your past, but you can change how you feel about it and heal your childhood wounds in your grown-up relationship. Speaking about your vulnerabilities and wounds with your partner is one answer to healing them. Ideally, the purpose of a relationship is to provide a safe space to be vulnerable and feel loved.
- Couples don’t need coaching or counselling unless their relationship is in serious trouble
Seeing a professional is beneficial at any stage of our relationship to help us navigate the transitions. In fact, a fabulous time to come in for coaching sessions is before you get married to lay a solid foundation for this next step of your relationship.
Do any of these myths sound familiar? Are you feeling stuck in your communication or struggling to navigate the current phase of your relationship? Perhaps it is time for you and your partner to come in for relationship coaching to work through a tough time or to get ready for a bigger commitment.
Check out my packages for couples.