The myth of the mermaid is a long and varied one…

Originally known as sirens in the ancient world, various cultures imagined these creatures as monstrous women with beautiful voices who dragged men to their deaths at sea. The deception was the name of the game, but that myth altered and changed into one of a beautiful woman lost and forlorn in the depths of the ocean.

Today’s mermaid mythology looks a lot more like the toxic relationship myths we build our most intimate connections on. The “siren” that many idolize today is a beautiful young woman, patiently waiting on a mossy rock for a magical man to whisk her away to the future far from the tempestuous reaches of the ocean.

Our worst relationship myths work this way too. They feed into fantasies of rescue and escape, doing little to help us build the equitable and supportive partnerships many of us actually crave.

What is a relationship myth?

What kind of relationship myths do you tend to buy into? Do you think that your partner should be a magical heal-all? That your relationship should be effortless and movie-worthy? Relationship myths are fantasy-rooted beliefs that we hold about romantic relationships or what it means to be a partner.

Like the myths of the classical age, these stories are rooted in partial misgivings about both partnerships and human behaviors. They limit both our ability to love and our ability to build healthier relationships.

Just as there are hundreds of different mermaid myths, each changed a little by the environments in which they are formed, our relationship myths are the same. Some are extreme and others are more mild. The really powerful ones are temptations wrapped in romance, and they can push us into partnerships that are unhealthy, unsatisfying, and disappointing all in one.

Breaking away from these myths is equally as powerful. When we step out of the shadow of expectations they cast, we can find balanced, loving partnerships that enhance our experience (instead of making us miserable). Is that something that you’re seeking? Then strip back the worst relationship myths you’re still feeding.

The worst relationship myths that hold us back from true love.

What relationship myths are holding you back from true love? There are so many that we treat as truth, even though they have disastrous results for our relationships. Why do we cling to these damaging fairy tales? Many of us cut our teeth on them as children. They’ve been force-fed to us by well-meaning parents, mainstream books, and the endless barrage of fantastical stories pushed on us by Disney, Hallmark, and everyone else.

If you’re clinging to any of these myths pushed on you by a world that doesn’t really understand human connection, shed them now. Getting away from this toxic mythology may just empower you to finally get the relationship you really crave.

1. Great love comes easily

If you are in your forever relationship now, how did you think it would play out when you got started? Did you expect the fairy tale ending? Now, for those who are looking for love — look to the future. When you imagine your ideal partnership, how do you see that connection 50 or 60 years into the future? Most see only the happy ending. The fields of wildflowers.

That’s not reality.

We’ve created this myth that our one great love will come easily. We imagine that everything will be magic with this person. The passion will never, ever fade. You will never, ever fight with them. Everything will be peaceful, smooth, and perfect. Because great love comes easily, right?

Yes, but mostly no…

When you have found your one great love, it is absolutely easy to love that person. It doesn’t mean, however, that the relationship is smooth. Both parties still have to face the individual struggles of life. As a couple, both parties have to figure out how to face the curveballs that life throws at them as a couple (ie job loss, financial crashes, death, etc).

2. Toxicity as a sign of love

There are many toxic and manipulative behaviors we have come to confuse with love. Over time, these toxic perspectives have become myths that keep people trapped in abusive relationships. That’s especially true for those who feed into the idea that jealous, possessive, or otherwise dangerous behaviors are a sign of love…(they categorically are not).

If someone is jealous of you and your relationships with other people, it’s a red flag. They’re not jealous because they love you. Jealousy comes from a place of possession and a place of insecurity. Neither of those are a safe place to be held in a partner’s heart.

A partner who loves you, for who you are, is not jealous of you. They don’t move to possess you or control you. They know that you are in their corner, as they are in your corner. The love shared with a person like this is much stronger, because they can hold space for their partners to be fully who and what they want to be.

3. Children as a solution

People look at families with wonderment and awe. Families are not only a source of love, but a source of safety and support too. To have a family means to have someone in your corner, looking out for you no matter what. They see the good in the bad in you and love you no matter what. At least, that’s what the myth wants us to believe…

The truth is that families are only as good as the people who build them. They aren’t a solution to a failing relationship. They are living, breathing collections of people with their own unique needs, perspectives, and identities.

If you think that creating a family with someone you hate will change things, it won’t. If you think it will fix a broken relationship, or make someone love you in a way they can’t love themselves — it will not.

It’s a myth that having children or creating a family will fix things. Children, while beautiful, add major stress to a relationship. If you’re at the breaking point in the present moment, children will only bring that breaking point closer. Worse? Those children are the ones who will pay the worst price for being brought into the mix by short-sighted, myth-obsessed parents.

4. Sex, sex, and more sex

We’ve created as many physical intimacy myths as any other in terms of our relationships. Sex is a hot topic when we’re talking about connecting on a romantic level, and there’s no denying that sex is an important component of the deeper connection that couples share. It’s not the end-all and be-all of a happy relationship, though. Thinking that sex must be over-the-top and constant is a myth that can erode our happiness.

Like anything else in a long-term relationship, physical intimacy is an ebb and flow. Depending on what the partnership is undergoing (and what the partners are undergoing on mental and physical levels in their own lives) the sexual connection will wane and strengthen. That’s healthy and natural.

5. Two becoming one

Personal identity is a must in a healthy partnership. Even as both parties build a life together, they maintain their own fulfilling lives outside of the partnership too. That’s how it should be, but many couples miss this mark by feeding into the myth that they must merge their identities when they commit to “becoming one.”

Losing your identity benefits no one. When relationships begin, partners fall in love with the unique individuals who walk into their lives. No one falls for the opinionless clone that many spouses and intimate connections become. Falling into that rut is dangerous. Independence and individuality are key in keeping the spark alive.

No couple needs to be together all the time. They don’t have to sleep in the same bed, or the same home. They shouldn’t have all the same friends, all the same experiences, and time off. To retain that sense of who they are at their core, partners do better to nourish their individuality within the relationship they are growing in.

6. Magic healing tablet

Romanticizing our intimate relationships is a mistake that so many people make. Thanks to the influences of society, we tend to think that these relationships are the number one goal in life. It’s not uncommon to find people who think that getting married or finding a forever person will magically heal their lives. They literally think it will make their trauma stop haunting them, or it will change the world they live in.

This kind of magical, mythical thinking isn’t helpful for anyone. Primarily because it’s not rooted in reality.

Falling in love with someone feels nice, but it won’t logistically change much that is happening in your life. If you’re mentally ill, you’re still going to be mentally ill. If you’re going bankrupt, struggling to find yourself, or drowning in your bad decisions — all of those things will still exist in your relationship.

No relationship will heal the suffering you’re experiencing. A partner can’t meet all of your needs, nor can they wave a magic wand and give you a different life, or a different body. A husband or a wife, they aren’t a fairy godmother. They’re humans trying to make it through life, just like their partners. It’s important to remain realistic.

7. Play up stereotypes

Living in a world obsessed with boxes like gender and race is tough. These perceptions shape everything, including our relationships. That’s not a good thing. Putting ourselves in boxes where our love is concerned is limiting. It limits the people we are able to love and the experiences we are able to have. In short, the stereotypes that become our relationship myths limit the happiness we are able to find of our own accord.

Playing up to gender stereotypes or relationship stereotypes won’t make failure any less likely for you. It won’t keep you safe or guarantee that fairy tale finish you may believe it will reward you with.

What playing up to the stereotypes (no matter what they are) does is risk leaving you personally unfulfilled. Men and women have the same emotional needs — whatever they may tell themselves or pretend in front of others. They need the same care, the support. The same applies across the board, no matter what box stereotypes may have shoved you into.

Honoring your needs authentically, for what they are, is a much healthier way to go that playing house in a narrative that wasn’t built for your benefit.

8. Real love is unconditional

Without a doubt the myth of unconditional love is one of the most dangerous ones we’ve created. No other myth has pushed more men and women to stay in toxic, abusive relationships than this one. While watching their partners rip their lives apart, people who believe this myth tell themselves they have to hold on anyway.

All love is conditional. And it should be. You expect your partner to love you, to be honest with you, to communicate with you. When we get into relationships, we have standards for how we want to be treated and needs that make us feel safe and validated.

Those are conditions. Not only that, they are healthy conditions that should exist in every relationship.

The person you love should not hit you, they should not hurt you. No matter how hard the choice may be, they should consciously take action that they know will inflict harm on you. Good relationships inherently have conditions like this, and healthy people walk away from partners who can’t meet those conditions.

A healthier way to see the love you desire.

We don’t have to buy into the mythology anymore. We have more choices than ever when it comes to love and more access to the knowledge we need to build healthier partnerships. You can get started on that path by:

  • Walking together as equals
  • Holding space for individuality
  • Keeping rooted in reality

Instead of playing up to stereotypes or looking for someone to rescue you from your own life, seek a healthier way. Partnerships should not be a hierarchy. They should be a team of equals walking side by side through life. That doesn’t mean you lose yourself, however.

Individuality is a must in all successful relationships. Never lose sight of yourself or accept a partnership into which you have to fold yourself down into the smallest possible pieces. There is always space for you and a truly loving partner will make room for that.

Keep rooted in reality too. There is no such thing as a fairy tale ending. There are no guarantees and no way to control the life of another person. Allow your relationships to grow organically, in the direction they need to take. Stop rushing yourself to a finish line or playing out a fantasy that doesn’t even fit you. Learn about the skills that make love last and adopt those skills for yourself.

© E.B. Johnson 2023

I am a writer, coach, and podcaster who helps women heal from traumatic relationships and narcissistic abuse. To learn more about working with me (and my new 1:1 program coming in 2024) click here.


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