Misjudging Marriage: How Our Natural Thinking Makes a Mess of Relationships
By H. Wallace Goddard

Humans do a poor job of making sense of things. We misperceive. We jump to conclusions. We’re rife with biases. But there is one bit of good news: We’re confident. We may be wrong but we’re very sure of ourselves.

Let me give you a few examples of the defects in human reasoning. As I do, think how these quirks create problems for relationships, especially close relationships like marriage.

“Naïve realism”

Jonathan Haidt, the insightful psychologist and writer, nominated naïve realism as the biggest obstacle to world peace and social harmony : “Each of us thinks we see the world directly, as it really is. We further believe that the facts as we see them are there for all to see, therefore others should agree with us. If they don’t agree, it follows either that they have not yet been exposed to the relevant facts or else that they are blinded by their interests and ideologies. It just seems plain as day, to the naïve realist, that everyone is influenced by ideology and self-interest. Except for me. I see things as they are” ( Happiness Hypothesis, 2006, p. 71).

When I believe that my view of life and marriage is right and my partner’s is mistaken, I open the door for Satan and his followers to sow confusion and discontent in my soul. Notice that naïve realism makes us omniscient. Without realizing it, we have begun to think that we are God. We judge everything by the light (or darkness) of our understanding. That’s a dangerous state for mere humans. In contrast, the scriptures recommend that we should consider ourselves fools before God (2 Nephi 9:42).

There is more bad news about human thinking. We tend to suffer from the fundamental attribution bias, the myth of pure evil, and confirmation bias. In other words, we tend to give too much credit to people we like and too little credit to people we dislike. And then we look for evidence to prove we were right. Phew! As humans, we are a mess!

Think how this affects marriage. When we are running on romance in the early days of a relationship, we see nothing but good. Irritations may hit us but they do not stick. This generally continues for around the first two years of marriage. Then romantic fatigue causes us to drop our illusions. At some point the irritations not only stick, they begin to accumulate. Soon irritation can take over a marriage. And confirmation bias (and the reality of being imperfect mortals) will assure that we stay chronically irritated.

Bad news with good effects

The fact that we are a mess is a discovery that I consider to be good news. We are almost always wrong. We misperceive and misjudge constantly. Thus we have good reason for humility. “Man doth not comprehend all the things which the Lord can comprehend” (Mosiah 4:9). There is the good news: God is always right. We can turn to Him for guidance. And He is fully willing to share His knowledge with us.

If thou shalt ask, thou shalt receive revelation upon revelation, knowledge upon knowledge, that thou mayest know the mysteries and peaceable things that which bringeth joy, that which bringeth life eternal. (D&C 42:61).

We will never get to the truth unless we put on the glasses that God wears. Then everything changes. The world is transformed, as Chesterton suggested: “How much larger your life would be if your self could become smaller in it; if you could really look at other men [and women] with common curiosity and pleasure. … You would break out of this tiny and tawdry theatre in which your own little plot is always being played, and you would find yourself under a freer sky, and in a street full of splendid strangers.” (G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday Image Books, 1959, pp. 20-21.) Even a long-time spouse is a “splendid stranger” when we start to see him or her as God does.

Incidentally, the premier psychologist of the new movement of positive psychology has said this of the new discoveries in marriage research: ” The most astonishing discovery in the entire research literature about romance [is] a principle I call Hold on to your illusions.’ Remarkably, the bigger illusion, the happier and more stable the relationship. Satisfied couples see virtues in their partners that are not seen at all by their closest friends” (Martin Seligman, Authentic Happiness, pp. 199-200).

But how?

How do we conquer our instinctive and automatic tendency to impose our meanings and judgments on our spouses? The answer is: We don’t. We can’t-by ourselves. But God can. We submit our minds and wills to Him and He renews a right spirit within us. He gives us the mind of Christ. He grants us new hearts.

How do we submit? What must we do to invite this mighty change? My experience is that it is a lifetime process-but it can be accelerated when we do two things: 1. we humbly turn ourselves to God for counsel and guidance, and 2. we become more attentive to the whisperings from heaven delivered by the Holy Ghost.

An invitation

Some Meridian readers may be interested in joining us to apply these ideas at a marriage retreat. We plan to meet two days to consider the core principles of the gospel and how the Holy Ghost would have us take God’s view of marriage. You can join us April 10 and 11 at Springhill Suites at Thanksgiving Point ( Lehi , Utah ). Easter weekend seems like an appropriate time to try to bring new life to our most important human relationship. If you’re interested in being a part of this retreat, go to www.familycollege.com to learn more or to register.

Return to Top of Article