Unhelpful thinking patterns – Why can’t we agree?
Perhaps you and your partner have started to make decisions about the future apart now you have decided to separate. Perhaps you’re negotiating or mediating and have become stuck? Maybe it all feels a bit frustrating and you feel like your partner is never going to agree to anything. It’s a very common feeling and one of the reasons people end up in court spending huge amounts of money. But did you know, the way you think about a problem often dictates how and whether you can solve it. Don’t give up just yet – read through the most common ‘unhelpful thinking patterns’ in our blog and see if you can re-think yourselves into making agreements….
Sometimes it’s our thinking that stops us reaching agreements with our partner rather than the problem being too complicated to solve. Our brains like to take shortcuts and this can lead to patterns of thinking becoming fixed. When we are under excessive stress, for example during a separation or divorce, these shortcuts become more exaggerated. See which one of these shortcuts is stopping you making agreements:
- All-or-nothing thinking. Seeing things in black and white. If a situation falls short of perfect, you see it as a total failure. Don’t reject an idea or proposal on the basis of a single element or on the basis that nothing your partner suggests can be worthy or fair.
- Overgeneralization. Seeing a single negative event, such as the rejection of a financial proposal as a never-ending pattern of defeat by using words such as ‘always’ or “never” when we think about it. “Whatever I propose he will never agree with me”. It’s rarely true so catch yourself overgeneralizing and re-evaluate.
- Negative focus (Glass half empty). Picking out a single negative detail and dwelling on it exclusively. For example, you start to make progress in a mediation session agreeing to sell the family home but you spend all night on the internet comparing your current large family home to the smaller properties you will each now be able to afford. An extreme version of this kind of thinking is catastrophizing.
- Jumping to conclusions. Jumping to conclusions is seductive because the conclusions we draw feel “right”. This is because we are engaging with the phenomena known as confirmation bias – seeking evidence to support an intuitive feeling or existing belief. Stopping to look for an alternative interpretation can halt this thinking in its tracks.
- Emotional reasoning. Believing that feelings are truths about the world. It can be easy to assume that our negative emotions reflect the way things really are: ‘I feel guilty. I must be a bad person.’ Or ‘I feel angry. This proves I’m being treated unfairly.’ Understanding that feelings are a filter or way of interpreting the world that you can control and change gives a healthy sense of emotional control.
- Living by fixed rules. Telling ourselves that things ‘should’ be the way we hoped or expected them to be, we tend to have fixed rules and unrealistic expectations. Sometimes this can lead us to assume everyone has the same frame of reference. ‘Musts,’ ‘oughts’ and ‘have-tos’ are similar offenders. ‘Should statements,’ directed against yourself, lead to guilt and frustration. ‘Should statements’ directed against other people or the world in general lead to anger, frustration or rebellion.
- Personalisation and blame. Holding yourself responsible for an event that isn’t under your control. Personalisation leads to guilt, shame, and feelings of inadequacy. Some people do the opposite. They blame other people or their circumstances for their problems, and they overlook ways that they might be contributing to the problem: Blame usually doesn’t work because other people just throw the blame right back. It’s like the game of hot potato – no one wants to get stuck with it.
If you recognise that one or more of these ways of thinking is preventing you making agreements with your partner and don’t know what do, then please contact us.