Aaron Beck isn’t just another self-help writer; he is one of the most influential minds in the history of psychology. He created cognitive therapy, one of the most well-regarded and proven therapy techniques, and while most of his books are written for psychologists, this one is a gift to the masses. Love Is Never Enough: How Couples Can Overcome Misunderstanding outlines cognitive therapy and applies it to one of our most important areas of life: our partnerships. It’s one of the best books on marriage out there–and it will help you in other aspects of life, too.
One of the main reasons we argue with our spouses is that we misunderstand them and judge them unfairly. We do this because of our “cognitive distortions”–the flaws in our logic that occur mostly when we’re upset. These distortions include: mind reading, framing, overgeneralizations, labeling, defensiveness, tunnel vision, catastrophizing (making a small issue into a big one), personalization, negative bias, all-or-nothing thinking, either-or thinking and more.
The three steps to changing your unfair and harmful thoughts about your spouse are: Step One: Recognize and correct your automatic thoughts. Listen to your thoughts about your mate and determine what your thought spiral is. Step Two: Test your predictions. Step Three: Reframe your perspective of your mate.
On cognitive distortions:
- Personalization occurs when you consider yourself the cause of your spouse’s behavior despite the fact that it has nothing to do with you. Example: “She’s in a bad mood. It must be because she’s angry at me.”
- Negative (global) labeling occurs when you apply a global negative label to a person, not just to that person’s action. Examples: “He is a weakling because he did not ask for a raise.” “She is a nag because she wants me to quit drinking.” “He’s a slob because he doesn’t pick up his clothes.” People also may use the same type of flawed thinking in evaluating themselves: “I never do anything properly. I always antagonize people. I’m a failure.”
- One of the most common of these distortions is polarized, “all-or-nothing,” or “either-or” thinking. If your spouse is less loving than usual, for example, you might conclude that he or she no longer loves you. In such polarized thinking, anything less than the most desirable is labeled as undesirable. There is either total love or total rejection, total consideration or total inconsideration—nothing in between.
- An example of snowballing thoughts: “Why is he silent? He must be angry at me. I must have done something to offend him. He will continue to be angry at me. He is always angry at me. I always offend people. Nobody will ever like me. I will always be alone.”
- Mind reading can produce inaccurate predictions resulting either in unnecessary upset or in what could prove to be a false sense of security.
- The biased expectations, observations, and conclusions that form a prejudice reflect the frame of mind known technically as a “negative cognitive set.” When a husband has framed his wife within this set, for example, he will interpret virtually everything she says or does in a negative way . . . On the other hand, during the infatuation of courtship and early married life, couples show a positive bias. Almost everything the partner says or does is interpreted in a positive light.
- If such overgeneralizations are repeated enough, the negative perspective of the “offender” becomes fixed.
- Because of the symbolic meanings attached to ordinary failings such as being late, one spouse may attach a great deal of significance to the other’s tardiness: “Something may have happened to her” or “If he really cared about my feelings, he would be on time.” Fears or self-doubts like these generally lurk behind exaggerated reactions to minor events.
- Most spouses are unaware they are rating each other according to moral standards. Interestingly, judgments like those their parents made seep into their own reactions; they see an erring spouse as “bad,” just as they were labeled by their parents, and they respond the same way as their parents did—with punishment.
- Tunnel vision, or screening, applies to the selection of a single detail from an experience and the screening out of other data—to interpret the entire event on the basis of that sole detail. Example: “My husband hated the meal I prepared—he complained the soup was too hot.”
On sex differences:
- “Men and women tend to have different conversational styles . . . Characteristically, women show a greater tendency to ask questions . . . Men are less likely than women to ask personal questions. Men are prone to think, “If she wants to tell me something, she’ll tell me without my asking.” A woman might reflect, “If I don’t ask, he’ll think that I don’t care.”
- Women use more utterances to encourage responses from the other person.
- Men are more likely than women to make comments throughout the stream of conversation rather than wait until the other person finishes speaking.
- [Men] are less likely to respond to the comments of the other speaker; frequently they make no response or acknowledgment at all, give a delayed response at the end of their partner’s statement, or show a minimum degree of enthusiasm.
- [Men] are more likely to challenge or dispute statements made by their partners, which explains why a husband may seem to be eternally argumentative.
- Boys tend to play in larger, more organized groups, and these groups place a higher premium on status and dominance. Boys who are less dominant have a relatively low status within their group and are made to feel the inferiority of their status position. In contrast to that of girls, the social world of boys consists of posturing, asserting dominance, and trying to command the attention of an audience. Their conversation is filled with orders like “Get up,” “Give it to me,” and with ridicule . . .
- The most powerful boy in a group is not necessarily the most physically aggressive but rather the boy who is most effective and skillful in his speech.
- When it comes to talking out conflicts, again there is a sex difference. Many women, for example, take the attitude “The marriage is working as long as we can talk about it.” Many husbands, on the other hand, have the view “The relationship is not working as long we keep talking about it.”
On identifying automatic thoughts:
- As a starting point, try to identify troublesome situations and the meanings you attach to them. For example, suppose your spouse speaks to you in a gruff way. Your automatic thought may be “My spouse is displeased with me.” You have to be particularly vigilant to pick up the hidden fear or self-doubt, such as “Have I done something wrong?” or ’Is he [she] going to scold me?” Next, tune in to the entire chain reaction: Have I done something wrong? (anxiety) My spouse has no right to be mad at me. (anger) My spouse always acts unfriendly. My spouse is a hostile, hateful person. My spouse will make life miserable for me. I can’t stand this. Our marriage is a failure. I will never be happy again.
- Examine them and look for supporting evidence, contradictory evidence, alternative explanations, and more logical inferences.
- If you had trouble pinpointing your automatic thoughts in an upsetting situation . . . try to relive mentally the event that once upset you.
- Ask: What is the evidence in favor of my interpretation? What evidence is there contrary to my interpretation? Does it logically follow from my spouse’s actions that my spouse has the motive that I assign to him or her? Is there an alternative explanation? What evidence is there on the other side? Have there been times, recently, when my spouse has been friendly or loving?