“How ‘bout a shot of truth in that denial cocktail.” – Jennifer Salize
For better or worse, part of the human condition is to contend with a built-in sensitivity to negativity, called “the negativity bias.” When taken to an extreme, however, a negativity bias creates a filter to that which is good and positive. When we turn a blind eye to the inherent worthiness of our children and loved ones, for example, we damage impressionable psyches – sometimes for a lifetime – and we wreak relationship havoc. The flip side to this is to view people through rose-colored glasses so thick and idealized, that we cannot see any flaws or faults – even when others clearly can.
My husband and I just watched a classic film from the forties – The Heiress – where Olivia de Havilland plays a plain Jane character, socially awkward and unassuming, who gets swept off her feet by a stunningly handsome fortune hunter. De Havilland lives with her father, who never misses an opportunity to compare her unfavorably to his dead wife. Romanticizing her as the epitome of idealized perfection, he views his dowdy and shy daughter as an insult to his wife’s very memory. On the other hand, de Havilland’s aunt is so caught up in the wishful fantasy of a prince charming rescuing her niece, that she absurdly supports the “romance” – even after de Havilland is jilted when the promise of money disappears. What made the movie compelling was de Havilland’s heartbreaking courage to allow and accept truth to pierce her illusions, even though it shattered her world.
I Just Don’t Get It – How Could They…
How many relationships are strained when we cannot, for the life of us, understand how someone can hold a particular opinion, or who remains tenaciously committed to problematic behavior in the face of objective and incontrovertible facts that contradict their beliefs? It takes a great deal of courage for people to be willing to change their worldview; so, it’s naïve to think that pulling back the curtain of their illusions will make them fall in line. That is because our versions of reality can be bound up in our very identities, our dreams, and the stories we tell about ourselves and the world.
That is why sometimes we “fight to the death” over insignificant things. The need to be right at all costs is the fear of the loss of self, our history, our values, and our way of knowing things. Thus, we can be so irrational when we are triggered, because the very nature of being triggered means that a core value, identity or need is being challenged. And when our stories are confronted, we defend them – reason and reality be damned.
Pharaoh and De-Nile
The inability to recognize the obvious is never more evident than in the story of Ten Plagues. How can we understand Pharaoh’s refusal to concede that Egypt was being reduced to ruin? Even worse – how could Pharaoh reject the demand for freedom, when Moses warned of the most crushing plague of them all – the death of the firstborn? The text tells us repeatedly, that at each juncture when Pharaoh could relent, that God hardened his heart, implying that God caused Pharaoh to continue to make these bad choices. But that’s not the case; instead, God prevented Pharaoh from surrendering out of fear and expediency. When facing an imminent threat, people often promise to change their problematic behaviors, but as soon as they think the risk is over, they go right back to their dysfunctional ways. The promise isn’t real; it’s a disingenuous ruse for their convenience. As long as Pharaoh was unwilling to change his story, his worldview – namely that he was the deity in control, God was not going to let him play that game. Incredibly, it wasn’t until Egypt was destroyed, the death of firstborn, and his entire army perishing at sea, that Pharaoh was willing to cede to the truth – that there really is a God – and it ain’t him.
What About Us?
The point is not to look at Pharaoh as a deranged dictator from a bygone era, however, but to look within. Is this going on in our lives? Is there something we are not willing to face? The saying, “Love is blind,” is not just a saying – neuroscience has proven how infatuation causes us to lose the ability to think critically. Of course, when the chemicals wear off, we see people as if for the first time and wonder – who is this person? As a long-time divorce attorney, and now a coach, I cannot count how many times people admit that the problems destroying their marriages were there beforehand, and feel remorse for not listening to friends, family, or their own inner voice, that questioned the relationship.
In my experience, people tell us who they are – but often we refuse to see it, or if we do, we believe we can fix them. So, I am going to do something very unusual – I am going to provide some questions for you to consider and outline objective red flags and danger signals, that if present in your relationships, should make you question very seriously whether a relationship is right for you. And if you still choose the relationship, then at least you can open your eyes and come up with realistic strategies to make the relationship healthier and happier.
Projecting the Future
Would I want to spend the rest of my life with this person exactly as they are? Would I want this person to raise my child? Would I want my child to be exactly like this person?
Are You Talking Yourself into the Relationship?
Do I want to help them or rescue them because I “see” their potential? I love the way they look, or their status and it builds my self-esteem to be with them. We have some things in common so, I am avoiding looking at glaring differences. I’m focusing on one important quality, and ignoring unmet requirements. I notice myself trying to change this person to fit what I want rather than accepting them for who they are.
Reacts to frustration with anger, rage, and blame. Blames others or circumstances for life situation. Tries to control everything, including me. Is immature, impulsive and/or irresponsible. Is emotionally distant, avoidant and aloof. Is still pining for a past relationship. Wants me to make their sad life better. Is married or otherwise unavailable to commit to me. Has active addiction or addictive behavior, rationalized as, “not a problem.”
Common Red Flags
Is pessimistic and negative about things that matter to me. Lacks integrity in dealing with people, money, etc. Is judgmental towards themselves and others. Is unwilling to self-examine, take feedback, accept responsibility. Doesn’t keep agreements. What they say about themselves doesn’t match reality. Takes you on an emotional roller coaster, with regular or recurring emotional drama. This isn’t what I really want, but I don’t want to be alone. Shows changeable inconsistent behavior. Shows an inability to listen. Talks too much (especially about themselves), monopolizes conversations, or is overly withdrawn and quiet.
What We Resist Persists
If a number of these issues resonate with you, please get some objective help in evaluating the relationship. Unresolved problems don’t improve after marriage; they get worse. It’s distressing how many people refuse to see or downplay warning flags, and head into unsatisfactory marriages, where they may struggle for years to get clarity on why things aren’t working. De Havilland got it right when she realized that wishing desperately for something does not make it so. Watch the movie.
Sources: Conscious Dating – Red Flags Checklist.
© Relationship Coaching Institute | All rights reserved | Adapted with permission