The majority of couples who end up getting divorced experience a gradual drift away from each other over the course of their relationship. It usually comes on slowly and gradually through a pattern of blaming the other and self-justification for their actions. Each individual is so focused on what the other is doing wrong, that they are unaware of how they, themselves, have contributed to the discord that is present in their relationship.
They actually blind themselves to their part by justifying their own attitudes and ways of doing things. In doing so, they become more suborn and convinced that they are right and the other is wrong. As they go down this pathway, each individual is less and less willing to consider the others perspective. As time progresses, the couple becomes so polarized that each feels intensely self-righteous in their perspective of being right that they lose all sense of empathy for the other.
Self-justification is the culprit that blocks us from looking at our part contributing to what is going wrong in the communication. Self-justification keeps us from feeling the uncomfortable feelings that come with owning some of the responsibility for miscommunication. Most people do not like to experience those uncomfortable feelings so they will do whatever they can to avoid them. One way we avoid responsibility for those feelings is by denying that we have them. Another way we avoid responsibility for those feelings is to justify our behavior. Once we justify our behavior, we are able to tell ourselves that we are not responsible; it is the other person who is responsible and the uncomfortable feelings go quiet. In doing so, we actually lose our power over the situation because we shuffle responsibility, and control, off to the other person. In the process, we damage the relationship further and communication breaks down even more.
To improve our communication and relationships, we have to let go of self-justification. We must be willing to tolerate the uncomfortable feelings that come with recognizing the responsibility for our part of the discord. Sometimes, that means just being willing to sit with those feelings and allow them to process through us.
To challenge self-justification, ask yourself, “Is there a possibility I could be wrong?” or “Is there another way I could look at this?” Then, be willing to tolerate the possible discomfort that comes from entertaining a different perspective. You may come to see that the anger you have been receiving from the other is actually a mask that hides a tremendous amount of suffering that they have been going through.
Once you have been able to recognize some part of the responsibility in the break down of communication, making an apology for your part can go a long way to improve the communication. In doing so, you open an avenue for better communication with the other person. The discomfort will subside and give way to a more honest relationship.
Call a licensed mental health professional to assist you in improving your communications skills and interpersonal relationships.
Dr. James E. Walton, Ph.D., LMFT is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who is on the Board of Directors at the Los Angeles Collaborative Family Law Association as well as Family Divorce Solutions, has a private therapy practice in Los Angeles, is a statewide lecturer and producer of the award winning Dr Walton Series.