Cognitive Dissonance Examples in Relationships and What Do They Mean?

By nature, people tend to live in harmony with themselves, their worldviews, beliefs, principles, and philosophy. This is what allows us to feel holistic and satisfied. But often in our everyday life, we can encounter such a phenomenon when some contradictory ideas, reactions, values clash with each other in our minds. This is what causes cognitive dissonance. And, despite the periodic occurrence of this phenomenon in the life of each of us, few people wonder what it really is. Nevertheless, everyone needs to have basic psychological knowledge because it helps us understand ourselves first of all.

what is an example of cognitive dissonance

What Is Cognitive Dissonance in General?

The concept of "cognitive dissonance" comes from two Latin words — "cognitio," meaning "cognition" and "dissonanita," meaning "lack of harmony" and is a particular state during which a person experiences mental discomfort caused by a conflict of their beliefs, ideas, reactions concerning a phenomenon or object.

What is cognitive dissonance on an example? Let's imagine that you are standing on the street, and you see two people — a respectable man and a tramp. You have an idea of each of them: a respectable man seems to be intelligent, well-mannered, a gentleman, while a tramp is rather the complete opposite of the first. But a nice man's phone rings, he answers the call and starts talking loudly, using a lot of obscene expressions, spitting on the sidewalk and ultimately not paying attention to others. At the same time, the tramp approaches you, and in a tone worthy of an intelligent person, asks you about what time it is and how he can get to such an address. At a minimum, you will be surprised and discouraged by this state of affairs — the opposite views and beliefs have just encountered in your mind. This is a social-cognitive dissonance.

For the first time, the American psychologist Leon Festinger put forward the theory of cognitive dissonance in 1957. With the help of it, he tried to explain the conflict situations in the cognitive sphere of the personality caused by events, phenomena, or actions of other people. This theory is based on two hypotheses.

-In a state of cognitive dissonance, a person will always strive to eliminate the inconsistencies that caused it. This is affected mainly by the state of psychological discomfort associated with dissonance.

-To neutralize this discomfort, a person will seek to avoid situations that may aggravate it.

How Cognitive Dissonance Manifests Itself In Relationships

What is cognitive dissonance in relationships? Any situation that does not meet our love expectations in a couple can activate cognitive dissonance and then find a way to reduce it. Often there are cognitive dissonances about the "second half," "destiny," "jealousy as a sign of love," "eternal love and passion," and "all-conquering love." For example, you want to find single women, but you do not realize the hardships of dating. You start building love with unrealistic expectations regarding the following cognitive dissonance examples in relationships, "My partner must be able to predict my thoughts and desires," "If she really loved me, she would do everything to please me," "My partner should never hurt my feelings or be angry with me," "Quarrels are a bad sign for a couple," "My partner will always be open and honest with me," "Love means always being together," etc. In this case, in a relationship with a partner, it is better to replace all beliefs that begin with the words "always" or "should" with "I would like to."

Infidelity can also be explained using the concept of cognitive dissonance. When it comes to cognitive dissonance and relationships, a traitor tries to justify what cannot be justified ("our relations are in crisis," "relations have become monotonous," etc.), shifting the blame onto another ("they did not pay attention to me"). Cognitive dissonance arises between the fact of cheating and the idea that there can be an excuse for it ("compromise," "sincerity," "devotion," and "loyalty"). Sometimes, with a very high degree of discomfort, this discrepancy can be eliminated through frank conversation and recognition. If it is difficult to change the behavior, then change your idea of what the relationship should be in a couple.

In the case of passive-aggressive behavior or straight domestic violence, cognitive dissonance in relationships arise, on the one hand, between violence, and on the other hand, with the maintenance of these destructive relationships. At the first stage, the most common cognitive distortions in the case of violence are:

-Denying or minimizing the problem, normalizing the situation ("we have some disagreements caused by living together"),

-self-deception and denial of the fact that the victim of domestic violence is a victim (“insults are not domestic violence”),

-justification for violence (“he loves me so much that he sometimes gets out of control”),

-selective attention to the positive aspects of the relationship in a couple (“he has asked for forgiveness, this will not happen again”).what is cognitive dissonance in relationships

Further, as a rule, the abuser's ability to change ("When we get married, they will calm down") and an increase in guilt are usually overestimated. At the last stage of the continuation of the relationship, cognitive dissonance in relationships is used to justify emotional dependence and humility ("How can I stop 20 years of marriage now?" "This happens in all marriages").

Cognitive Dissonance Examples

The effect of cognitive dissonance is often underestimated, while in reality, it is severe. As already mentioned, this condition occurs when a person's knowledge and facts do not coincide. Therefore, for example, to make a decision, people sometimes have to leave aside their knowledge and do something different, which, in turn, creates a mismatch between what they think and what they do. The result of this is a change in attitudes, which is merely necessary and inevitable for consistent human knowledge. It is this that catalyzes the fact that many people often justify some of their thoughts, mistakes, and actions, changing their beliefs to please them because this neutralizes the intrapersonal conflict. What is an example of cognitive dissonance?

Personal comfort versus new ideas

A person seeks to gain a sports physique. Sport is pleasant, it makes you feel good, and your health will become stronger. To achieve the goal, a person dedicated to getting in shape must visit the gym, regularly go to training, eat properly, observe the regime, etc. If a person has not done this before, they must, by all means, begin, or find many reasons why they do not need it, and they will not do it: no money, poor (supposedly) well-being, or lack of time. Thus, any human actions will be aimed at reducing dissonance — getting rid of the inner contradictions.

A historic dissonance

Similar cognitive dissonance examples have happened in history more than once. For example, during the Second World War, in one of the American camps for Japanese refugees with quite normal living conditions, there were rumors that the friendliness of the Americans was deceiving, and the campsite was specially chosen so that people could not survive in it. This was due to a discrepancy between reality and Japanese perceptions of US hostility to their country. Studying such stories, Festinger concluded that people seek an internal balance between the information received and their own ideas and motives. The contradiction that occurs when this balance is violated, he called cognitive dissonance.

Quitting an addiction

Festinger cites the following example: if a smoker finds out about a new study proving the connection between smoking and the occurrence of cancerous tumors, this person, of course, is likely to quit smoking. But with a higher likelihood, they will either rank themselves as moderate smokers ("I smoke so little that it can not greatly affect my health"), or they will find positive aspects in smoking ("I have nothing to lose" or "so what, I'll die earlier anyway"), or they will look for information that refutes the opinion about the dangers of smoking ("my nicotine-dependent grandfather lived to be 100 years old") and avoid information that confirms it.

Minor everyday dissonances

A person plans to go walking or on a picnic to the forest on weekends and cook barbecue with friends. The weather forecast promises good warm weather without rain. However, when a company of people gets to the picnic site, the sky gets drawn in by clouds, and suddenly the pouring rain begins. In this case, a person has a dissonance between the realization that the weather is terrible (because they see it) and the expectation that the day should be warm and sunny. For dissonance to occur, it is not at all necessary that such apparent inconsistencies arise. The results of various experiments conducted say that even small things can lead to cognitive dissonance.

The variety of choices causes more irritation

If you have to choose a new place of residence, you will be offered: Hawaii, New York, and Dubai. If the choice is between Dubai and New York and you do not want a quiet place, this will not cause you severe discomfort: the first place is a big resort with beaches and good weather. At the same time, if you have to choose between New York and Hawaii, you will feel more cognitive dissonance since one of the alternatives does not compensate for the other. You start to question any choice and are now unsure whether you even want to live by the ocean anymore. Maybe you should choose a metropolis and live a new busy life? People love to choose between a few options because when there are too many suitable variants, we start doubting whether we even like any of them.

Cognitive dissonances used to comfort your anxiety

For example, you went through several stages of an interview for a job in a large company, and you were refused at the last stage. To reduce your discomfort, you begin to think that, "It was not worth it," "That means this work is not for me," "I will find a better one." You come up with different excuses, just not to tell the truth — you were just neither suitable nor good enough. People tend to blame anyone around and seek justifications of their old views instead of taking over the responsibility.

How to Resolve Cognitive Dissonance for Better Relationships

We compare our social relationships with this stock standard, or "level of comparison," and feel miserable if our real social life is worse than it was before. Comparing social relationships often affects our self-esteem. Past experience leads us to ideas about such social interactions and relationships that give us a sense of satisfaction and happiness, just like those that do not cause these feelings. We know our social needs and how to achieve them. But cognitive dissonances spoil our life and show that it is time to change because you are stuck in a vicious circle of the wrong choice. How to resolve cognitive dissonance to live a better life with our loved ones?

Recognizing cognitive dissonances in yourself is the first step

In order not to perceive cognitive dissonance painfully, you just need to accept the fact that this phenomenon generally takes place. It is essential to understand that the discrepancy between some elements of a person's belief system and the actual state of affairs will always be reflected in life. In fact, it is much easier to accept the facts as they are and try to adapt to the circumstances, without wasting your energy on the thought that, perhaps, something was done wrong, some decision was made incorrectly, some the choice was not made correctly.cognitive dissonance in relationships

Listen to your partner. They can be right too

As for the worldview as a whole, the state of cognitive dissonance often arises only because we are firmly convinced that something should be just like that and not otherwise. Many people believe that their opinion is the only right one, and everything should be as they want. This position is the most ineffective for a harmonious and happy love life. The best option is to accept that everything can be completely different from our thoughts, views, and beliefs. The world is full of not just different people and facts, but also all sorts of puzzles and unusual phenomena. And our task is to learn to look at it from different angles, taking into account any possibilities.

Do not stick to the past experiences and thoughts

If something has already happened, then so be it. In one of the books of the famous writer Carlos Castaneda, in which he describes the process of his training with an Indian shaman, his teacher tells him about one very effective way of living — to be a Warrior. It is not worth going into the details of this path's philosophy, but one of its main features is that a person can doubt and think until they have made a decision. But having made their choice, they must cast aside all their doubts and thoughts, do what is needed, and calmly accept the result, whatever it may be.

Admit your mistakes and do not be afraid to appear vulnerable

This all makes a person very vulnerable and, unfortunately, manageable. A healthier way out of cognitive dissonance is to admit that you messed up, admit that you did harm, but not draw from this universal conclusion about your inferiority. Tell yourself, "Yes, I hurt a person I love, I did it unreasonably, it's very unpleasant, I shouldn't do this, but that doesn't mean that I am some kind of bad person, I did it only once, but this will never repeat." The same, of course, applies to situations where you act wrong. If you do so, the cognitive dissonance within you will weaken to a tolerable level, and you will not be so controlled by various bad influences.

Look at the usual things from a different perspective

One destructive method of dealing with dissonance is the exclusion of new knowledge and information, which can enhance internal conflict. Also, in the future, a person will avoid situations that already caused cognitive dissonance. The world is filled with contradictions, and even a topic on which you have a clear, formed position can open up from a new angle, only as a result of a single argument. Therefore, for any phenomenon, there will always exist at least one cognitive element in discord with the selected "behavioral" element. It's just that some of the dissonances are irrelevant for us, every day, so we neutralize them automatically. But pretending that a problem is non-existent doesn't eliminate it.

Be open to the new

Do not be afraid to admit your mistakes, take responsibility but do not fence yourself off from problems by a world of illusions. The process of internal "self-healing," that is, achieving consonances, can become your incentive for new achievements, so smooth out dissonances in the most useful and effective way! May not dull complacency be your goal.

Another catch of cognitive dissonance is that it can be in the hands of manipulators. In particular, the principle of consistency described by Robert Cialdini in the book “Psychology of Influence” is based precisely on fears of cognitive dissonance. We often agree to something that we were not going to do at all if it corresponds to our flattering ideas about ourselves.

But if you do not try to drown out the contradiction with the first foundations and dig into the very essence of things, this can become a powerful impetus in the development of personality.

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