What Is Cognitive Dissonance in Relationships? How Does It Affect Couples?

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People are naturally prone to live in harmony with themselves, their worldview, beliefs, principles, and philosophy. This is what allows us to feel holistic and satisfied. But often in our everyday life, we can encounter such a phenomenon when some contradictory ideas, reactions, values, clash with each other in our minds. This is where it comes to the state of cognitive dissonance. And, despite the periodic appearance of this phenomenon in the life of each of us, few people wonder what it really is. Nevertheless, everyone needs to have basic psychological knowledge because this will help them better know, first of all, themselves.

Today we will talk about everything that has to do with cognitive dissonance in relationships, find out what is cognitive dissonance in relationships, the examples of cognitive dissonance in relationships, and figure out how to resolve cognitive dissonance.

Let’s first talk about social cognitive dissonance and figure out what cognitive dissonance is.

what is an example of cognitive dissonance

General Facts About Cognitive Dissonance

So, what is cognitive dissonance and how does it manifest in our lives? What is an example of cognitive dissonance?

The concept of “cognitive dissonance” comes from two Latin words - “cognitio,” meaning “cognition” and “dissonanita,” meaning “lack of harmony,” and is a special condition during which a person experiences mental discomfort caused by a conflict in their mind due to contradicting beliefs, ideas, reactions in relation to some phenomenon or object.

An example is the following situation: you are standing on the street, and you see two people - a respectable person and some weirdo. You have your own idea of each of them: a respectable person seems to be intelligent, well-mannered, and a weirdo is a complete opposite. But a nice person’s phone rings, they answer the call and start talking loudly, cursing, spitting on the sidewalk and completely not paying attention to others. At the same time, the weirdo approaches you, and in a tone worthy of an intelligent person, asks you about what time it is and how can they get to this or that address. At a minimum, you will be surprised and discouraged by this state of affairs - the opposite views and beliefs have just encountered in your mind. This is cognitive dissonance.

For the first time, American psychologist Leon Festinger proposed the theory of cognitive dissonance in 1957. With its help, he tried to explain the conflict situations in the cognitive sphere of the personality caused by events, phenomena, or actions of other people. This theory is due to two hypotheses.

In a state of cognitive dissonance, a person will always strive to eliminate the discrepancies that caused them. This is affected mainly by the state of psychological discomfort associated with dissonance. To neutralize this discomfort, a person will seek to avoid situations that may aggravate it.

If you think that your relationship has been dealing with issues of this nature for far too long, then you have to make some changes or end your relationship right away. There are plenty of sites to find women online, so you won’t find yourself lacking for new potential romantic partners. Just remember that there should be some time spent on yourself in the case of dating after a breakup. So, give yourself some time to unwind, forget, and move on.

With that out of the way, let’s now find out what causes cognitive dissonance.

What Causes Cognitive Dissonance

Causes for cognitive dissonance may vary:

  • Some situation from the present does not correspond to experience from the past.
  • The opinion of one person is contrary to the opinion of others.
  • Traditions and customs of other nations unfamiliar to the man.
  • The logical inconsistency of any facts.

The effect of cognitive dissonance is often underestimated, while in reality, it is very serious. As already mentioned, this condition occurs when a person’s knowledge does not match. Therefore, for example, to make a decision, a person sometimes has to leave aside their knowledge and do something else, which, in turn, creates a mismatch between what they think and what they do. The result of this is a change in attitudes, which is simply necessary and inevitable in order for human knowledge to be consistent. It serves as a catalyst for the fact that many people often justify some of their actions, thoughts, mistakes, and actions, changing their beliefs to please them because this neutralizes the intrapersonal conflict.what is cognitive dissonance in relationships

Let’s now talk about cognitive dissonance and relationships.

Cognitive Dissonance in Relationships: Signs and Examples

Here are some of the main cognitive dissonance examples and signs of this phenomenon.

Cognitive dissonance in love

Let’s talk about cognitive dissonance examples in relationships. Any situation that does not meet our expectations for love and relationships in a couple can activate cognitive dissonance, and then find a way to reduce it. Often there are cognitive dissonances about your “romantic partner,” “destiny,” “jealousy as a sign of love,” “eternal love and passion” and “all-conquering love.” Unrealistic expectations regarding your partner are based on the following cognitive dissonances, which become cognitive distortions, “My partner must be able to predict my thoughts and desires,” “If they really loved me, they would do everything to please me,” “My partner should never hurt my feelings or be angry with me,” “Quarrels in a relationship are a bad sign,” “My partner will always be open and honest with me,” “Love means always being together,” etc. In this case, in a relationship with a partner, it is better to replace all beliefs that begin with the words “always” or “should” with “I would like to.”

Cognitive dissonance and infidelity

Infidelity can also be explained using the concept of cognitive dissonance. When it comes to relationships in a couple, a traitor tries to justify what cannot be justified (“our relationship is getting through the crisis,” “Relations have become monotonous," etc.), shifting the blame onto another (“They do not give me attention that I need"). Cognitive dissonance arises between, on the one hand, infidelity, and on the other hand, the idea of what the relationship should be between two individuals (“compromise,” “sincerity,” “devotion” and “loyalty”). Sometimes, with a very high degree of discomfort, this discrepancy can be eliminated through frank conversation, recognition, and if it is difficult to change the behavior, then changing your own idea of what the relationship should be in a couple.

Cognitive dissonance and domestic violence

In the case of domestic violence, cognitive dissonance arises, on the one hand, between violence and maintenance of these destructive relationships.

At the first stage, cognitive dissonances, turning into the most common cognitive distortions in the case of violence, are:

  • Denial or minimization of the problem, normalization of the situation (“we have some disagreements caused by living together”).
  • Self-deception and denial of the fact that the victim of domestic violence is a victim (“insults are not domestic violence”).
  • Justification of violence (“they love me so much that they sometimes get out of control”).
  • Selective attention to the positive aspects of the relationship in a couple (“they've asked for forgiveness, and this will not happen again”).

Further, as a rule, the offender’s ability to change (“When we get engaged, they will settle down and become normal”) and an increase in guilt are usually overestimated. At the last stage, the continuation of the relationship is justified by emotional dependence and humility (“Why should I throw 20 years of being together into the trash?” “This is exactly what happens when you get engaged”).

Advice on How to Resolve Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive dissonance, depending on the situation, tends to become stronger or weaker. For example, in a situation where a person helps a person who does not particularly need it, the degree of dissonance is minimal, but if a person understands that they need to urgently begin important work, but they are engaged in something outsider, the degree will be higher. The intensity of the state of dissonance directly depends on the importance of the choice. However, any fact of dissonance motivates a person to eliminate it.

There are several ways to do this:

  • Change your tactics
  • Change your beliefs
  • Critically evaluate new information

Take the following situation as an example, a person seeks to gain sports- like physique. It is beautiful, pleasant, makes you feel good, and your health will be better. To achieve the goal, they must begin to visit the gym, regularly go to training, eat properly, follow the regime, etc. If a person has not done this before, they must, by all means, begin, or find many reasons why they do not need it, and they will not do it: no time or money, poor (supposedly) well-being, and their physique, in principle, is normal. Thus, any human actions will be aimed at reducing dissonance - getting rid of the contradictions within oneself.

cognitive dissonance in relationshipsBut the appearance of cognitive dissonance can be avoided. Most often, it helps simply ignore any information regarding the problem, which may differ from the existing one. And in the case of a state of dissonance that has already arisen, it is possible to neutralize the further development of this process by adding new ones to the system of beliefs, replacing them with old ones. It turns out that you need to find information that "justifies" existing thoughts or behavior and try to avoid the opposite information. But often this strategy leads to fear of dissonance, prejudice, the emergence of personality disorders, and even neurosis.

In order not to perceive cognitive dissonance painfully, you just need to accept the fact that this phenomenon generally takes place. It is important to understand that the discrepancy between some elements of a person’s belief system and the actual state of affairs will always be reflected in life. In fact, it is much easier to accept the facts as they are and try to adapt to the circumstances, without wasting your energy on the thought that, perhaps, something was done wrong, some decision was made incorrectly, some the choice was not made correctly. If something has already happened, then so be it. In one of the books of the famous writer Carlos Castaneda, in which he describes the process of his training with an Indian shaman, his teacher tells him about one very effective way of living - to be a Warrior. It is not worth going into the details of the philosophy of this path, but you just need to know that one of its main features is that a person can doubt and think about something until they have made a decision. But having made their choice, they must cast aside all their doubts and thoughts, do what is needed, and calmly accept the result, whatever it may be.

As for the worldview as a whole, the state of cognitive dissonance arises most often only because we are firmly convinced that something should be just like that and not otherwise. Many people believe that their opinion is the only right one, and everything should be as they want. This position is the most ineffective for a harmonious and happy life. The best option is to accept that everything can be completely different from our thoughts, views, and beliefs. The world is full of not just different people and facts, but also all sorts of puzzles and unusual phenomena. And our task is to learn to look at it from different angles, taking into account any opportunities, and not to be "narrow-minded" people who are stubborn and fixated on themselves and their knowledge. Cognitive dissonance is a state inherent in every person to a different extent. It is important to know about it and be able to determine and neutralize it. But it is equally important to take it for granted.

What is your opinion on this? Surely, when reading the article, you recalled some interesting examples of cognitive dissonance from personal life. Tell us about your experience because nothing causes such interest as real stories. In addition, many will be interested to read about how someone else comes out of this state. So we are waiting for your stories and comments.

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