Many couples choose to do things the conventional way - they court each other, get engaged, then get married and start a family. Others may skip most of these rituals and live together without marriage, while starting a family together. Yet others may never get married and/or never have children, and indeed, may never even live together.

A healthy relationship is not governed by any particular rules in regards to the living situation. What in fact constitutes a happy and healthy relationship is the sharing of some important traits. Specifically, each person in the relationship must have a mutual respect for each other; they must share a common set of values; they should be on the same page about the status of the relationship and where it is going (eg, whether or not to marry/live together/have children); and they must enjoy being together.

There are, however, several myths about what a ‘happy and healthy relationship’ is supposed to be. These myths can actually be counter-productive for the relationship when people come to develop unrealistic expectations.

Here are the most common myths to be aware of, so that you don’t fall into the trap of believing that you are in a bad relationship:

Myth 1: Happy Couples Never Fight

Happy couples will argue every now and then. This is both normal and healthy in any relationship. Arguing with your partner just means you are communicating your thoughts and registering your own opinions. The way in which these 'fights' play out should lead you both to resolving any issues between you in a productive manner.

However, arguing with each other constantly, and especially screaming frequently, is unacceptable and a sign of an unhappy situation. If you find yourself at a point in your relationship where you are more often than not at odds with each other and unable find some common ground in your thinking, it is time to reassess the relationship and/or seek counselling to solve your problems.

At the end of the day, arguments or fights should never dissolve into physical or mental abuse.

Myth 2: Happy Couples Do Everything Together

While it is great to share a few interests with your partner, it is not wise to spend every free moment doing things together. You both came into this relationship with your own interests and needs, so don't let those go because you are now a team. Spending time apart and pursuing your own interests is actually a great way to nurture your fondness for one another and bring you closer together.

At the other end of the spectrum, some couple may not have any activities they both enjoy doing. This is not ideal either, as it is important to have some balance in how much or little time you spend together. You each have unique talents that you can share with each other that may lead to some mutual activities you both engage in. This is therefore a great opportunity to explore some potential common interests that you could undertake on a regular basis. It could be anything from learning to cook gourmet foods, or taking trips to the country. It doesn't have to be a daily commitment, as long as you are together, but not constantly in each other’s pockets.

Happy couples allow their partner the freedom to come and go without constantly questioning their every move. It shows a strong sense of security in the relationship when you allow your partner to do their own thing with their friends or buddies. Happy couples do not fear that their partner is going to lie about their whereabouts.

Myth 3: Happy Couples Always Have Amazing Sex

Most happy couples are now laughing out loud. Healthy, happy relationships don't depend upon sex on demand, multiple times a day. Sex should be more about the quality than the quantity. This doesn't mean that happy couples don't enjoy frequent sex, just that it is not their top priority all the time.

Any person in a relationship who is unhappy about their sexual experiences should speak up. Your partner is not a mind-reader, and happiness can only come from communicating and exploring your sexual experiences together to identify ways that are fulfilling for you both. Take the time to talk to your partner and let them know exactly how you feel about your sexual encounters. Try to work out ways to make the experience pleasurable for both of you. One unhappy partner means that sex is never going to be fulfilling for either of you.

Myth 4: Happy Couples Love Their In-Laws

Face it, we have all heard mother or ‘mother-in-law from hell’ stories. While we do get to choose our partners, their families are just extra baggage they bring into the relationship. We can love, hate, or tolerate our in-laws, but there is no fast rule that says people must love their in-laws. There is no rule that says you even have to like them. You did not marry or enter into an intimate relationship with them.

Irrespective of the dynamics between you and your in-laws, they do not have the right to treat you badly. If you do have in-law problems, speak to your partner about it (sometimes they may not see the problem.) If you are ignored (which often happens, because your partner is not seeing what you are), then you need to find a way to help your partner understand that you are serious. A happy couple does not require the relationship with the in-laws to be fabulous, but each person in the couple does need to be understanding and supportive of the other about any problems with the in-laws that are causing distress or upheaval in your life.

Myth 5: Happy Couples Never Forget An Important Occasion

Sure, it can be very disappointing when your partner forgets your birthday or anniversary. If you were hoping for a romantic gift or expensive anniversary present, and didn’t even get a card, should this lead to misery? Think about it. Does an elaborate gift on your wedding anniversary from someone who doesn’t listen to your opinions or acknowledge your feelings make you happier than having someone who accidentally forgets your birthday, but who would voluntarily do a few extra chores for you when you are feeling unwell? Happiness in a relationship is about the day-to-day stuff that takes place which shows that you each care for each other and respect one another. A special gift may be lovely to receive, but the pleasure of receiving it is short-lived when the next unresolvable argument recurs, and when you feel dismissed, ignored, or undermined.

Myth 6: Happy Couples Follow a Specific Path

Although many people hold conventional values about relationships (dating, engagement, marriage, children), there are many who don't choose this same path. Society cannot dictate absolute rules about how a relationship should play out. Married couples versus those who just live together, can live identical lives physically and emotionally. Neither course is wrong. It is up to each couple to decide the course of their own lives together.

The problem arises however, when two people are in disagreement about how the relationship is being lived out. If one person wants marriage and the other doesn’t, this could pose a problem. This is not to say that the relationship is doomed. In any happy relationship, there will be some disharmony in what to do, or where to go next, but as long as the couple work to find a solution and sense of balance that they can both feel at peace with, this is what is important.

Myth 7: Happy Couples Always Love Living Together

Whether living together while dating, or after marriage, life is not always a bed of roses together. At first there are a ton of adjustments to be made, just to get used to living with someone. Space needs to be shared and responsibilities need to be divided. Living together is all about compromise.

Instead of letting negative thoughts about your partner's flaws overwhelm you, speak up and resolve the problem. Does your partner hate to hang their toothbrush in the holder, leaving it on the counter for you to take care of? Maybe you could find out why they refuse to hang it, and suggest they just put it in the medicine cabinet or in a drawer. Sometimes just talking about issues helps you learn about what makes each other tick, why some choices are made, and why some behaviors are acted out.

Living together takes some adjusting to. It takes work to hold your tongue when you want to lash out in anger at some perceived wrong doing. You love your partner and want to compromise as much as possible. This does not mean you won't long for those days when you could do what you wanted at home, but you can indulge in doing those things at times when you are home alone.

Myth 8: Happy Couples Never Have to Work On Their Relationship

Believe it or not, every single relationship needs to be constantly worked on. Working towards a happy relationship means that you both compromise, that you each change or modify some of your behaviors or ways of thinking, and lose the stubborn streak. It doesn't mean changing who you are, just working on ways to show mutual respect for each other which will make you and your relationship happier and healthier.

When to Stay and When to Leave

Life is constantly filled with challenges and changes. Happy couples do spend a lot of time working on their relationship: this is why they are so happy. Sometimes you have to be willing to give in to the needs of your partner and sometimes they will have to give in to your needs. Working together is the only way you are going to become, and remain, a happy couple.

If you are unsure about whether or not you should stay in your relationship, you can read a couple of my other articles. One article here may help you work out if you are in your relationship for the wrong reasons. You can also read my article here which describes some key indicators of a healthy relationship.