Marriage: Demonstrating the Value of Cognitive Dissonance, Every Day
This blog was published in 2011 at www.pamelahaag.com
Few institutions invite—perhaps require?--cognitive dissonance like marriage. It's remarkable, a marriage's capacity to say one thing and do another, while all the time being genuinely convinced of its sincerity and integrity. Cognitive dissonance is an adaptive ingenuity for reconciling contradictions, and for fitting round pegs into square holes, and spinning delicate, usually lovingly-intended worlds of interpretive nuance to maintain a pleasing status quo.
And there's something ingenious, and perhaps even beautiful, to it, isn't there? It’s akin to "magical thinking," perhaps.
Probably, the capacity for cognitive dissonance is one of a marriage's most valuable survival skills over the long haul, notwithstanding what a gazillion marriage counselors, psychologists, and trained experts will tell you about honesty and candor and opening up. You can find self-improvement and advice books aplenty to give you that message, but it doesn't happen to be mine.
I have sympathy, not judgment, for the adaptive strategies that marriages develop, because it's my view that the problem, too often, isn't the husband, and it's not the wife. It's Marriage, and what Marriage asks of us in an age when the old Marriage Imperatives have faded, when we no longer have to marry for a meal ticket, a legitimate sex life, social standing, or even to raise children. We live longer than ever, we have more autonomy in our lives and finances.
President Kennedy once commented of the Democrats that, "sometimes, the Party asks too much." In this context, it may be that "sometimes, Marriage asks too much" also.
Cognitive Dissonance comes to the rescue. It allows a spouse to tweak and bend the conventions of marriage to get something they need while still maintaining a loyalty to those conventions. My example in this post concerns sexual infidelity, but what I'm describing is by no means limited to sexual conduct. Cognitive Dissonance works on a range of marital stress points, from money to childrearing.
Cognitive dissonance isn't "hypocrisy," per se. It's a more delicate arrangement, or truce with reality, because spouses are convinced of the logic and coherence of their worldview.
The marital hypocrite, for example, would say, "I disapprove of infidelity, but, still, I'm unfaithful." The spouse with cognitive dissonance says, "I disapprove of infidelity and I don't do it" even though 9 1/2 out of 10 outside observers would agree that he or she is, indeed, precisely doing it.
The spouse--and I have in mind one husband, with children, maritally semi-happy, middle-aged, genuinely concerned about not being a jerk in life, and very thoughtful--honestly doesn't see himself in the category of the "cheater." In this case, "Adam" had had a very intense love affair that was only fleetingly consummated physically and then had two other dalliances after that, which may or may not have involved some kind of contact but that were, nonetheless, fiercely-held secrets from his wife in his marriage, and passionate alliances of the soul and mind if nothing else.
Adam and I exchanged an occasional e-mail about my book, Marriage Confidential, two years ago, and at one point in this correspondence, as I described the shifting ethics around monogamy and the new forms of marital cheating out there today, Adam wrote back, incredulous and shocked, "You know people who play around like that?"
Huh??? It was one of those delicious, classic moments of "Pot, This is Kettle: You're Black." Not only did I encounter and "know" such people, I was, at that very moment, e-mailing with one of them! But what fascinates me is that the errant husband in question here quite sincerely and honestly did not feel himself to fit the category of "cheater" or a spouse who "played around"--even though, again, our Greek chorus of 9 out of 10 observers would have agreed that he was, precisely, just that...
Now, the Marital Purists who tend to have (or imagine that they would have) very strict, unforgiving, zero tolerance, Right out of a Country Music Song standards of cheating, will probably say, "Adam's just a liar."
That's not the case as I glancingly saw it. The interesting part of this story is that I'm convinced that the spouse in question sincerely believes himself to be a non-cheater as he cheats.
Cognitive Dissonance reconciles the unreconciliable. Maybe it buys you a few more years before you slide into divorce or marriage therapy. Maybe it buys you a whole lifetime of trying to get what you need through the back door, who knows.
I'm not really a marriage purist, and I find that marriage always seems complicated to me, the deeper down you care to look.
As for the spouse who inspired this brief meditation, he is still married, so far I know; the wife is no less happy than she was before, so far as I know; their marriage, in toto, sounds like it's stably semi-happy, on good days, and likely to stay there for some time. Is that a triumph or a tragedy, a good thing or a bad thing?
It's genuinely hard to tell.
Pfizer's partnerships strengthen their ability to deliver vaccines in developing countries.
- Pfizer is helping to drive the UN's sustainable development goals through partnerships.
Swiss researchers identify new dangers of modern cocaine.
- Cocaine cut with anti-worming adulterant levamisole may cause brain damage.
- Levamisole can thin out the prefrontal cortex and affect cognitive skills.
- Government health programs should encourage testing of cocaine for purity.
Sarco assisted suicide pods come in three different styles, and allow you to die quickly and painlessly. They're even quite beautiful to look at.
Death: it happens to everyone (except, apparently, Keanu Reeves). But while the impoverished and lower-class people of the world die in the same ol' ways—cancer, heart disease, and so forth—the upper classes can choose hip and cool new ways to die. Now, there's an assisted-suicide pod so chic and so stylin' that peeps (young people still say peeps, right?) are calling it the "Tesla" of death... it's called... the Sarco!
Civil discourse has fallen to an all time low.
The question that the American populace needs to ask itself now is: how do we fix it?
Discursive fundamentals need to be taught to preserve free expression
In their findings the authors state:
upholding First Amendment ideals.
Talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner
- Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
- Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
- Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
- Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial
- Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
- Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
- Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising,
It's interesting to note the authors found that:
"Tribe membership shows strong reliability in predicting views across different political topics."
Here are some statistics on differing viewpoints according to political party:
- 51% of staunch liberals say it's "morally acceptable" to punch Nazis.
- 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
- 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
- 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
- 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.
Here are some guidelines for civic discourse that might come in handy:
- Practice inclusion and listen to who you're speaking to.
Civic discourse in the divisive age
dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants,
the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.
These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and
putting our democracy in peril.
Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from
immigration and trade to economic management, climate change and national security,
become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.
Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate.
The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from
re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to
building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us."
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.