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De-Myth-ifying Some Common Ideas About Love and Marriage

October 02, 2000|KATHLEEN KELLEHER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The world of love is wrought with timeworn adages drilled into us by our mothers ("He won't buy the cow if he gets the milk for free"), well-meaning friends ("You should be 100% honest with your mate") and an alarming proliferation of rule books on dating and relationships.

To free the lovelorn, love-locked and love-impaired, renowned relationship expert Pepper Schwartz has written the equivalent of the anti-rules.

"Everything You Know About Love and Sex Is Wrong: Twenty-Five Relationship Myths Redefined to Achieve Happiness and Fulfillment in Your Intimate Life" (Putnam, 2000) is built upon 30 years of her own research and the research of other social scientists. The book replaces relationship mantras, which, the University of Washington sociologist asserted, can prove fatal to some relationships, with practical advice. These are some myths Schwartz takes to task in the book, due in bookstores Oct. 9.

Myth: Never go to bed angry.

"People think 'If I go to bed angry--festering wounds will ruin the relationship,' " said Schwartz. "It is always OK to go to bed angry." Better that than saying things you will regret in the morning, he adds. Eight hours of sleep can reduce heart rates and afford the levelheadedness necessary to talk constructively.

Myth: You should always be 100% honest with your partner.

Not wise. Knowing when to be honest and when not to be is an art form, said Schwartz. If you are feeling out of love with your partner or feeling unattracted, this is not the time to share. There is a good chance you will be in love and attracted again. Affairs are dicey. If one night of indiscretion is going to break up an otherwise long, happy marriage in which children are involved, Schwartz said, it might not be in the family's long-term interest to confess.

Myth: You can't be in love with two people at the same time.

"We are not geese," said Schwartz. "We weren't made to mate once and then, when our mate dies, never mate again." A person can be seriously attracted to or in love with more than one person.

Myth: Married and committed people should live in the same house.

Whether one lover has habits that seriously annoy the other, or one is a neatnik and the other is a slob, or a couple has incompatible work schedules, living separately can give a disharmonious relationship harmony. "A writer and a painter bought condos across from each other because they both wanted large chunks of privacy," said Schwartz. "Couples who live in different cities fall in love but find that commuting suits them."

It will happen more, Schwartz speculated, as people live longer. The once-married may fall in love after a death or divorce, but they may not want to dismantle their lives to cohabit.

Myth: Even if sex isn't fantastic in the beginning, it can be fixed.

The optimism of love prompts some couples to make a huge commitment hoping bad sex will get better. This doesn't always happen, said Schwartz. Couples should try sex therapy early on, she said, before tying the knot. Premature ejaculation and difficulty reaching orgasm can be helped through cooperative efforts, but low sexual desire is more difficult to change, said Schwartz. One partner's desire for oral sex when the other is unwilling can also be problematic if it is a big deal to the one who wants it. "Then it becomes 'You mean I am going to go my whole life and not get this?' " Schwartz said.

The moral of the story is that some of the most successful relationships are those built upon the individual instincts, desires and needs of two people. In that spirit, Schwartz encourages men and women everywhere to reconsider the myths of love.

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Birds & Bees appears each Monday. Kathleen Kelleher can be e-mailed at kellehr@gte.net.

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