There’s an element of uncertainty in everything we do – in deciding what to make for breakfast, whether to watch one more episode on Netflix, or to send that risky text.
We’re uncertain of our actions, but we’re even dicier in our judgement of other folks actions.
When it comes to judging other’s actions, uncertainties breed misinterpretations.
Friends and coworkers, being more lighthearted, are forgiving in their misjudgments. Partners, on the other hand, are less willing to provide such free passes. For them, uncertainty breeds anxiety.
Hasty judgements of partners’ actions, whether right or wrong, often the turn into breakups. In breakups, there’s a cascade of emotions to sort through for both parties.
Holding yourself accountable for these negative emotions, such as guilt or shame, can be uncomfortable. A more natural reaction is to blame other factors for feelings of negativity – what Sigmund Freud called “projection,” a common ego defence mechanism.
We blame time or place, exes – anything out of our control. Self-perceived lack of control at least means that we don’t have to claim responsibility for their actions.
But, if neither individual is willing to hold themselves at least partially accountable, then both are prone to repeat the same toxic behaviours that led to the breakup in the first place. This phenomenon is called repetition compulsion – also coined by Freud. Basically, we subconsciously insert ourselves into familiar (and once uncomfortable) situations in desperate attempt to exorcise feelings of guilt or shame. In other words, we repeat our past mistakes because we believe that its successful resolution – this time – will be cathartic.
Repeating the same mistakes in hopes of a better outcome has never mended a relationship.
What’s needed instead is critical and unabashed self-reflection. An introspective gaze is necessary for realizing how our actions can be conducive, and potentially detrimental, to a particular outcome. Self-reflection, if done right, brings about personal growth and a sense of fulfillment that makes for happy relationships.
Despite self-reflection promising positive future relationships, few actually do it.
Well, humans are inherently narcissistic beings, which leads to cognitive biases – errors in reasoning or quick judgements based on subjective past experiences. It’s easy to become biased towards our own social reality, to dogmatically convince ourselves that our truth is the only truth.
That’s not to say that speaking your truth isn’t important. In fact, it’s an important part of a healthy relationship. Empathy, or the ability to understand others’ points of view, is the other. Without both parts, relationships are bound to fall short.
To make self-reflection more complicated, add Carl Rogers’ theory of self-actualization: humans continually strive to achieve congruence between how they view themselves (their self-image) and how they wish to be (their ideal self.)
Achieving self-actualization is hard.
We use defence mechanisms, like denial or repression, to falsely align our self-image and ideal self. We hide the lying to ourselves and bad habits from ourselves, which is bad for our relationships.
Self-reflection in relationship strife is both uncomfortable and awkward – it involves admitting personal flaws and potentially adjusting your actions. At the same time, self-reflection is enlightening – it helps to realize what role we play in others’ lives or particular outcomes, and how we view ourselves. In today’s age of overly-anxious dating, self-reflection, if anything, is a necessity.