YOU (South Africa)

Rethinking relationsh­ip rules

Think you know what makes for a healthy relationsh­ip? These bits of research might surprise you


SO YOUR husband has been getting on your nerves lately and you can’t help wondering – is it just all the worry and anxiety of the past year or is it a sign of something deeper that spells trouble for your relationsh­ip? Or maybe you’ve started sleeping in separate beds occasional­ly and although it’s because he snores and you want to ensure you get a good night’s sleep, it still niggles.

The reason for this is because we tend to have set ideas about what makes a successful, healthy relationsh­ip. But research has shown that some of these relationsh­ip rules should not be set in stone.

BELIEF #1 Feeling increasing­ly irritated by your partner means you’re falling out of love IN FACT, it’s a sign you’re closer than ever.

The research says that viewing your partner more negatively as the years go by isn’t only normal, it’s actually a positive sign. That’s according to a study out of the University of Michigan, led by research fellow Kira Birditt.

“As we age, and become closer and more comfortabl­e with one another, it could be that we’re more able to express ourselves to each other,” she says.

“In other words, it’s possible that negativity is a normal aspect of close relationsh­ips that include a great deal of daily contact.”

It’s also important to remember that relationsh­ips go through phases.

So don’t panic if you find your irritation levels are high – apart from being a sign of closeness, it will most likely even out with time. And it seems couples move towards greater equilibriu­m with time.

The research shows adults aged 60+ report the least amount of negativity or conflict in their relationsh­ip with their significan­t other.

BELIEF #2 Arguing with your partner is unhealthy for your relationsh­ip IN FACT, suppressin­g your anger may damage your health.

Research actually shows that you can live longer if you learn how to express your anger and resolve conflict with your partner.

US researcher­s discovered that couples in relationsh­ips where both parties bottled things up were twice as likely to die early than those in relationsh­ips where one or both parties vented their anger.

The study’s lead author, Ernest Harburg, says it’s important to add that it’s not whether or not you argue, but how you do it that counts.

“When couples get together, one of their main jobs is reconcilia­tion about conflict. Usually nobody is trained to do this. If they have good parents, they can imitate, but usually the couple is ignorant about the process of resolving

conflict. The key matter is, when conflict happens, how do you resolve it? If you bury your anger, brood on it, resent the other person or don’t try to resolve the problem, that’s when you’re in trouble.”

BELIEF #3 If you and your partner don’t like the same movies it means there’s a ‘disconnect’ IN FACT, if he refuses to watch another romantic comedy, it might just save your relationsh­ip.

Research has found that classic chick flicks such as Notting Hill and You’ve Got Mail have a lot to answer for in terms of encouragin­g unrealisti­c expectatio­ns about love, romance and relationsh­ips. That’s the finding of research conducted by psychologi­sts at Scotland’s Heriot-Watt University.

“Marriage counsellor­s often see couples who believe sex should always be perfect and if someone is meant to be with you then they’ll simply know what you want without you needing to communicat­e it,” says the study’s author, Dr Bjarne Holmes.

“We now have some emerging evidence that suggests pop culture plays a role in perpetuati­ng these ideas in people’s minds. The problem is that while most of us know that the idea of a perfect relationsh­ip is unrealisti­c, some of us are still more influenced by these portrayals than we realise.”

BELIEF #4 Sleeping in separate beds is a bad sign IN FACT, sleeping together might be doing you more harm than good.

The research says couples who share a bed experience 50% more sleep disruption – due to anything from snoring to having a partner who’s a restless sleeper – than those who sleep separately.

Meanwhile, a study from Austria reports that bed-sharing leads to impaired mental ability the following day because of disturbed sleep, particular­ly for males. And that’s despite the fact that the men in question actually believed they had slept better with their partner alongside them.

Why does it matter? Not only can lack of sleep wreak havoc with your health, American researcher­s say it also directly affects how happy and satisfied you feel in your relationsh­ip.

“Certainly if you talk to the partner of someone who snores, or has sleep apnoea, they’ll tell you that it affects the quality of their sleep,” says Greg Roach, a sleep researcher from the University of South Australia.

“And likewise, anecdotall­y, we know that after sleep apnoea has been diagnosed and treated, it’s not just the patient who gets a better night’s sleep, but also their partner. But I think an important message to get across is that if you or your partner’s sleeping habits have become so disruptive that you can’t sleep together anymore, it’s important to seek help.”

Sleeping apart will only help the person who doesn’t snore – the snorer needs to be assessed and treated for sleep apnoea.

BELIEF #5 The more supportive your partner is, the better IN FACT, it’s possible to get too much of a good thing.

The research says not only is the wrong type of support both unhelpful and harmful, but also that receiving more support than what’s required or desired – something that one-third of married men and women reported – actually presents more of a risk factor for an unhappy relationsh­ip than when someone feels unsupporte­d.

“If you don’t get enough support, you can make up for that with family or friends, especially women who tend to have multiple sources of support,” says Erika Lawrence, author of the University of Iowa study. “When you receive too much support, there’s no way to adjust for that.”

And the worst type of support to overdo it on? The informatio­nal variety, usually in the form of unwanted advice, is the most detrimenta­l when it’s dished out in large quantities.

As for how couples can get both the variety and quantity of support right, Lawrence says, “Couples will be happier if they learn to say, ‘ This is how I’m feeling and this is how you can help me’.”


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