Reasons to understand yourself before understanding your spouse

Sometimes we may struggle to understand our spouse. We may even feel that we will never understand him or her. In many cases, the best thing to do is understand our own inner self. Would you like to know how to do this?

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  • There is an essential fact in our communication, which we may eliminate from the start: The real possibility of talking to each other when we only want to be heard instead of listening and understanding our spouse, children and parents. Moreover, we fail in our attempt to communicate once we think that everything is centered on us. This may happen when we assume that our spouse says or does something because of us. This is how things become distorted by misunderstanding what our loved ones say to us.

  • Authors Ellis and Harper (1975) provided a list of the most common misunderstandings. All of them have the same origin: irrational thought of everything that our spouse does for us. This usually happens as a process with three steps:

    1. Our spouse does something.
    2. We start a monologue within us in which we give certain intentions to the actions performed by our spouse.
    3. We feel an emotion toward our spouse
  • based on the irrational monologue, not on our spouse’s performed actions

  • This means that almost everything that our spouse does that irritates us in reality wasn’t done with that intention. It is what we understand from their gestures, words, and actions.

  • The two most common ways of irrational monologue can be manifested as follows:

    1. Phrases that victimize or make the other person look like a victim, such as “My husband is doing this just to annoy me.”

    2. Absolute generalizations that imply phrases such as “always”, “never” “ever.” For example: “From now on…”; “I will never be able to do…” These two examples may be manifested in different ways. The following are some of the most common ones:

  • Polarization

  • This is related to perfectionism. This takes place when your children or spouse make a mistake, and this is enough for you to find fault in them. Anybody who does this is forgetting that human beings make good and bad choices. This distortion takes us to the next one:

  • Mental filter

  • We focus on negative details about our spouse to a point where we become blind about their positive qualities. I have known people that have the perfect spouse and everything in order to enjoy a wholesome life, but they are unhappy only because of a tiny disliking detail.

  • Mind reading

  • This is the tendency to think that we know what others are thinking and what their intentions are. Therefore, we believe that we know everyone’s thoughts. The person who suffers this does not even bother to know if these intuitions are correct. In this manner, the person creates prophecies that are self-fulfilled due to the negative interaction with the other spouse, which generates the fulfillment of the above-mentioned expectations.

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  • Excessive generalization

  • This takes place when we tend to make general statements based on one simple incident. The worst thing about this is that these statements turn out to be absolute and categorical conclusions: “I will never be able to”… “All men are the same”… “I will never be loved again”…, “He will always be a failure”… This type of thought prevents us from using our free agency and the possibility to change not only for ourselves but also for our spouse and our children.

  • Personalization

  • This occurs when we place ourselves as the center of every problem, which may happen in two ways:

  • Perfectionism

  • This begins when we have certain expectations about our spouse and we want their adjustment. Therefore, when our expectations and their actions do not match, our answer is bitterness, frustration, and cynicism instead of being flexible.

  • Labeling

  • This could be summarized as “the measure of a human being is the mistakes he has committed.” We label our spouse, children, and in-laws. From then on we stop seeing human beings as alive and dynamic individuals, but only as a label. We only see their external attributes, and we become partial to them.

  • It is very important to realize that our feelings are modified by our thoughts. Therefore, it is good to be conscious of emotions and factors that originate from the following aspects:

    • The realistic appreciation of diverse circumstances, experiences and environmental stimulus.

    • Distinguishing between preferences, wishes and real needs in order to maintain an adequate and proportional perspective.

  • The movie A Beautiful Mind premiered in 2001. The film depicts the life of John Forbes Nash, Nobel Prize winner in 1994, who begins to develop paranoid schizophrenia. The interesting aspect of this genius’ life is that he was conscious of his disability. Given the fact that this is a chronic and incurable disease, he was able to live a pretty normal life in a controlled manner based on his efforts. Now, how does this story relate to our topic? The way Nash overcame the critical status of his schizophrenia was not through intervention or the elimination of his illusionary state. However, he was able to cope with them by avoiding feeding them. He said: “I still see things that are not there, but I choose not to see them. It is similar to a diet for the mind; I choose not to be indulgent with certain appetites.” I believe this is the best way to avoid cognitive distortions that we all may have: to be conscious of them and to force ourselves not to see them, to avoid feeding them.

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  • Published in Matrimonio by Oscar Pech on September 23, 2013

  • Translated and adapted by Anders Peterson from the original article “Por qué antes de entender a tu pareja debes entenderte a ti mismo” by Oscar Pech

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Oscar Pech ha dedicado su vida a la enseñanza, la lectura, la escritura y la capacitación en diferentes partes de la República mexicana. Es una persona profundamente comprometida con la familia y los valores morales.

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