Cognitive distortions in relationships often affect couples. If these distortions start to dominate our thoughts about living together, love or arguing, the relationship can experience a crisis. Therefore, it is important to identify the cognitive distortions in relationships. Detecting the distortions that drive your thinking patterns about your relationship is the key to happiness.
Cognitive distortions are inflexible or irrational thought patterns. The mind uses them, for example, when processing information. They select the information and the way in which it is processed. They then produce the results of the process in the form of thoughts and emotions.
There are different types of cognitive distortions. Each of us experiences them at some point in our lives. If you experience them occasionally, that’s not a problem. If they show up often, they can cause psychological harm and interpersonal relationship problems. Cognitive distortions also hinder personal development.
Common Cognitive Distortions in Relationships
Overgeneralization – once is enough
Overgeneralization is when one or two isolated incidents are enough to make a statement or general rule about it. Here’s an example of overgeneralization – if my partner forgets to buy something I asked for, I won’t ask her next time because she always forgets everything I ask anyway .
The problem with overgeneralization is that you become a judge who constantly issues ultimatums. It also pigeonholes the other person. If one mistake means we always ruin everything, why try to change?
There is a useful strategy to defeat overgeneralization. Try to look for facts that contradict the general rule. For example, if you think your partner is forgetting everything you ask, try looking for examples of situations when he remembered what you asked. It’s about training your ability to question yourself. This way you can process information in a more objective way. Then you will be able to come to a realistic and fair conclusion.
Extremism – prescription lenses magnify everything
This distortion has to do with looking through a filter that exaggerates certain properties. When you first fall in love with someone, you often turn into an extremist. For example, you exaggerate the results of your first encounters. Sometimes you turn a small detail into something fantastic or you turn a mistake into a disaster.
We see a lot of extremism in couples who are not used to arguing. It also comes up when a couple is arguing for the first time. The couple does not agree on something and the disagreement turns into a hefty argument. They feel that they will never agree. A small thing can seem like a hindrance to growth for the relationship.
Some examples of this kind of distortion could be “I can’t stand disagreeing with him” or “It’s actually a small lie, but it’s still terrible that she lied to me.” One way to deal with extremism is to enrich our emotional vocabulary. We must find a balanced way of expressing ourselves.
Personalization – when we feel like the world revolves around us
This is when one feels responsible for the mood or behavior of another. Some examples are: “He’s in a bad mood at work because I didn’t text him before” or “I’ve been out with my friends all day and now that I’m home she’s ignoring me.”
Personalization makes you feel overly responsible for other people’s well-being. You feel able to control your partner’s emotions.
Here’s a practical exercise to overcome personalization. Draw a circle and divide the responsibility for what happened among all possible causes. It is important to stop making yourself responsible for everything.
Negative labels – rating everything
Negative labeling is defining your partner in a generally negative way. It means identifying negative traits in every aspect of your partner’s life. Some examples are: ‘He’s selfish for watching football while I’m talking to him’, ‘She’s selfish because she’s always talking about herself’ or ‘He’s stupid because he doesn’t understand what I’m telling him’.
This cognitive distortion can cause a major problem in romantic relationships. According to psychologist John Gottman, it can turn into one of the things that causes a rift – contempt. If we judge our partner negatively, we develop a negative image of him or her. That increases emotional stress and anger.
Emotional reasoning – if I feel this way it’s because something is wrong
Emotional reasoning is looking for external causes for our feelings. If we don’t feel right, the situation is wrong and something or someone is responsible.
In romantic relationships, a partner can become overwhelmed by their emotions. Then he decides solely on the basis of his feelings. An example of emotional reasoning might be, “I’m sad, I feel abandoned because she hasn’t messaged me all day.”
Making decisions based on feeling is not a good idea. Emotions are ever changing and fleeting. This is not a good basis for a decision. Romantic relationships need continuity and long-term commitment. You cannot base it on temporary emotional impulses.
We must be able to tell the difference between our feelings and the external situation. We need to analyze the situation objectively. Try to be an impartial observer. Think about what advice you would give a friend in the same situation. This psychological distance exercise is good for dealing with emotional reasoning.
Mind Reading – A Dangerous Supernatural Power
Mind reading makes you react defensively to what your partner is thinking. This particular cognitive distortion makes you act on speculation. You do not respond to information that you actually have.
Here’s an example of mind reading: “She told me she doesn’t mind staying home, but I know she’s mad.” Another is: ‘My partner congratulated me on my promotion, but I know he thinks I don’t deserve it’.
Remember that you are often not sure what you are thinking and feeling. So it is impossible to know what the other is thinking. Even though you know someone well, it is extremely difficult to know exactly what he is thinking.
One thing that can help with mind reading is asking before guessing. Question yourself. Think about what you know about your partner and what you think.
Understanding how your mind works is the first step to transcending its limits. Work every day to combat these cognitive distortions in relationships that emerge. When you do that, you own your own thoughts. You are free from prejudice and willing to enjoy your relationships to the fullest.