One of the most frustrating parts of relationships is how polar they can be. One day the other person can seem like an angel, the next, well… something opposite an angel.
For example: Think about a couple who, on their wedding day exchange deep heartfelt vows of love, feeling that no words can adequately express how perfect the other is. To her he is handsome, gentle, kind, and talented, and to him she is beautifully radiant, confident, and poised.
Then on the way to the reception he does what she’s reminded him three times already not to do. He steps on the train of her dress, ripping it. She expresses her frustration and disappointment. He is, to her way of thinking, relatively unapologetic. Now, to her, he is inconsiderate, careless, and unfeeling, and to him, she is self-absorbed, unforgiving, and whiny. They started out the day madly in love, and they’re ending out the day just mad.
Isn’t it interesting that we can so quickly change our mind about someone? When things are going well in a relationship, the other person can seem nearly perfect. It is almost as though at that moment we see only the good in them. It doesn’t take much, though, for the other person to do something that can cause us to see only the bad in them. Why?
This happens because of something psychologists refer to as “Confirmation Bias.” I call this the “I told me so” effect. Confirmation bias basically means that when we come to a belief (even a momentary one) our brains automatically tend to pay attention to confirming evidence, and ignore or reject disconfirming evidence. This means that in those moments when we come to believe that the other person is wonderful, our brain only pays attention to evidence that proves our assumption correct. Then, when something happens that causes us believe the other person is terrible, our brains pay attention that kind of evidence.
In relationships, this effect is especially important, because you have a lot of evidence stored ahead of time… you have history with this other person. When that bride becomes convinced that her new husband is clumsy and uncaring, the memories she has access to in that moment are the times in that relationship when he behaved that way. When, on the other hand, she was convinced he was studly and talented, she recalled those kinds of memories.
It all boils down to this: things are never as good or as bad as they seem. We constantly make momentary assessments of situations… we interpret statements and actions with lightning speed. The theory of confirmation bias basically teaches us that most of the time these assessments and interpretations are skewed.
Practically speaking, this is a great reason whey we should listen to what the book of James teaches us:
James 1:19–20 (NLT)
19 Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. 20 Human anger* does not produce the righteousness* God desires.
Notice that this verse teaches us that our momentary responses rarely produce the righteousness or “rightness” that is consistent with God’s character. Having a right response means allowing our interpretation some time before arriving at a conclusion. As with most relationship issues, time is your friend.
Remember that every person in a relationship with you brings a mix of good and bad traits. One of the greatest relationship skills you can ever master is the ability to integrate your view so that you see both aspects at the same time. When you do that, you see less of the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in the relationship, and a bit more of the truth.