Can You Trust Your Feelings?

Often when there is conflict in a marriage spouses experience various negative thoughts and emotions that are automatically triggered by the events and circumstances taking place in the relationship.  When this happens, however, we should ask ourselves some important questions.  Can I trust that these instincts are correct?  Do my feelings truly reflect reality?  Should I act upon them?  

To give just a few examples, common thoughts and emotions that couples may experience during times of conflict may include:

  • “He doesn’t love me anymore.”
  • “She is so needy.”
  • “He just has to control everything.”
  • “I don’t want to be with her as much as I used to.”
  • “He’s deliberately trying to make me miserable.”
  • “Our marriage is a complete mess.”
  • “Maybe we’re not meant to be.”
  • “We have fallen out of love.”

What do we make of this?

Psychological science distinguishes between two different cognitive tracks or systems in which human beings operate.  These systems basically describe how we process information in making judgments or decisions.  We employ them when trying to make sense of our circumstances or choose between various options.

The first is the intuitive system.  As the name suggests, we operate in this system when we rely on instincts, initial impulses, current emotions, automatic thoughts, and so forth.  The second is the rational system.  Utilizing this system involves deliberate reason and rational thought.  Our rational system draws upon a vast internal archive of information, principles and logical rules.  

There appears to be a pop-psychology trend that encourages people to trust our intuition and gut instincts.  Some even claim that making decisions based on these initial impulses has been shown to be just as sound and accurate as taking a longer more rational approach.  There may be some usefulness to this in specific sterile environments like business.  However, decades of social science research has shown us that intuitive judgement and decision making is significantly prone to emotional bias and cognitive error.  This is especially bad news when the focus is crisis in marriage.

Often when we are in a compromised emotional condition or an ego depleted state we rely primarily or exclusively on our intuitive system to draw conclusions and make judgments.  Because these thoughts and feelings are involuntary and unsolicited they can seem both powerful and true.  In reality, these intuitive instincts are mostly just mental shortcuts that generally lead to poor decisions and behavior.  These erroneous initial reactions are tainted by our biases and directed by personal and cultural fallacies.

In short, when it comes to judgement and decision making in marriage it is unwise to trust your initial thoughts and feelings.  These initial reactions are simply not logical or reliable.  It is much better to put some distance between our instincts and our situation and approach it from a fresh more rational perspective later.

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