At the outset, I state flatly this is not relationship advice. This is decision-making advice as it pertains to any relationship. There IS a difference. When someone finds themselves questioning whether or not they should stay in a relationship, the process they use is crucial to making the best decision possible.
Chip and Dan Health, in their book Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work, outline various pitfalls and “best practices” in the decision-making process. The authors correctly point out confirmation bias as THE most common and critical error in making sound decisions. Everyone and anyone can fall into the trap of seeking only information that supports an already-established view of a situation. One of the ways, the authors suggest, to overcome this tendency is to assume that the opposite of what we believe is true. Thank you, Journey!
The book discusses one small business that decided to question its own thinking. The company had always refused to participate in RFBs (Request for Bid) to get business. The company assumed the RFB was offered to make the process “look fair” when the decision had previously been made. The company decided challenge that belief and place a bid for a $200,000 job. In the end, that grew to over $1 million in business for the company. The company learned a valuable lesson: not everything we think is true…is…true. The authors also point out: participating in the RFB was an easy and harmless way of assuming the opposite to be true. Building a second location, for instance, might not be the time to take action on the opposite.
Another low-risk method of testing our assumptions, particularly in relationships, is to assume positive intent when considering and analyzing the words and actions of others. The authors highlight how, when relationships are in discord, either party may well assume anything and everything said and done by the other as negative, with negative intent. The question is posed: what if we move forward assuming positive intent?
This is no easy task. In any relationship with a history of disagreement, resentments or the like, this seems Herculean in nature. That’s the point… confirmation bias has taken hold in may relationships almost to the point of blindness. Long-standing, deeply-held beliefs are not easily scrutinized. No one said good-decision making would be comfortable, easy, and reassuring. If the relationship is one of deep significance and substantial investment, would not the low-risk investment of changing assumptions be worth what it might reveal?
In addition, the Heaths offer another way of challenging our thinking in relationships. In an effort to prove or disprove “always and never” accusations, people are asked to keep a diary of only the good/positive/supportive words and actions of their partner. After a pre-determined period, participants were asked to review their notes in light of previous claims and beliefs. It was an eye opener, as is easy to imagine. Perceptions and reality are very different.
What if people did both – assume positive intent AND write down the positives? There are any number of possibilities that might arise from flipping our thinking upside down. Perhaps the entire dynamic of the relationship changes – or not. The point is, we have stepped out of the comfort of our own thinking and reality-tested those beliefs in the real-world with very little risk. At then end of the day, we can have more confidence that the choices we make are based on more than just our own untested and unchallenged assumptions.
For more information about divorce, relationships and sound decision-making, check out my book Divorce:Taking the High Road here at Amazon.
Kurt Chacon is a lawyer and divorce coach in north Dallas practicing collaborative law. He is a member of the Collaborative Divorce Denton County ,Collaborative Divorce Texas, and is a CDC Certified Divorce Coach.