Most people get married because they love their partner. They like the way they are with each other, honest, loving, understanding, fun, etc. Some are arranged marriage as they are unable to find the love of their life. However some get divorced as they are no longer compatible and they get turn off very easily. They are frustrated and bored.
For those who want to continue to stay in an unhappy marriage due to many reasons such as the kids, their reputation, family, etc. as an alternative to divorce will ignore their feelings and convince themselves that the marriage is working well. They tend to adopt a cheerful attitude. They offered patience and understanding to make it appear as if the marriage was happy.
Cognitive Dissonance is a feeling of discomfort caused by performing an action that is inconsistent with one’s belief (Franzoi, 2009, p.162). Basically it is a disagreement between one’s personal beliefs and one’s actions. It is the difference between how they would like to be and how they are.
Cognitive dissonance is an aversive drive that causes people to (1) avoid opposing viewpoints, (2) seek reassurance after making a tough decision, and (3) change private beliefs to match public behavior when there is minimal justification for an action. Self-consistency, a sense of personal responsibility, or self-affirmation can explain dissonance reduction. (Socio-psychological tradition) (Festinger, as cited in Griffin, 2011)
How can we observe “cognitive dissonance” in Marital Satisfaction? In Marital Satisfaction, we can observe cognitive dissonance in 3 different areas: Behavioural, Mental & Emotional.
Behavioural Observation There will be marital stress. They wear ‘masks’ at home and they will feel exhausted as they struggle with their life. Their journey will be full with pain and grief. They pretend things are okay in their marriage when there is distance. They say nothing is wrong when their feelings are truly hurt. They don’t necessarily lie to their spouse; they just shade part of the truth. They don’t feel comfortable being their true self with their spouse because they are afraid of judgment or mockery.
They will purchase self-help books, confessed their feelings to a marriage counsellor or friends that they can trust. They offer patience and understanding to the spouse to make it appear as if the marriage was happy. They will smile and put on a happy face especially in front of the children to avoid them from knowing but will let out their true feelings and cry it out at night. They will lay awake at night and try to rationalize things that they have done so that it is acceptable.
Their physical health will be affected as they are facing with too much stress in their life. They too may run into problem as they seem to be lying to themselves. Even though cognitive dissonance can resolve internal anxiety, it can also reinforce future bad decisions or behaviours e.g. lying
Mental Observation Their mind will be filled with thoughts of whether they are doing the right thing. They feel turned off with what they are doing. They could not be themselves and their anxiety in wanting to be themselves and do what they like to do increases. They have sleepless nights thinking the sacrifices that they have made to make others happy when they themselves are not happy..
The dissonance caused by such contradictions will also create an unpleasant mental tension, which can range from minor irritation to deep pain as long as it continues. They are unable to relax and feel comfortable until they have been able to eliminate the dissonance or at least reduce it considerably. They can use Self-justification to escape from the discomfort. This is also a major threat to marital satisfaction because both partners tend to justify their behaviour in a way that allows them to be right while either explicitly or implicitly making their partner wrong.
Emotional Observation They will be unhappy or semi-happy. They are unwilling to admit their frustration, acknowledge their crumbling marriage and obtain a divorce due to their culture, religion or the children. They constantly experienced a lingering feeling of doubt about the relationship. With that, they attempt to change their opinions to coincide with the behaviour they felt was expected of them and adopted a cheerful attitude towards their marriage to convince themselves that the marriage is working well.
On the other hand, this can also make them become stronger in facing any challenges in their life. If they are optimistic, they will make the best of the marriage as the decision is in their hands. They are not able to be the person that they are but who they are might not be the best person. Cognitive dissonance can also reinforce future good decisions or behaviours e.g. more understanding, patient, increase communication between spouse, etc.
Conclusion Successful marriage is not about getting their partner to do what they want; it’s about being who they are. This aspect of cognitive dissonance isn’t bad; it can act as a motivation to be true to their deepest values, by making them behave in more loving and compassionate ways. It can help them change the unhealthy attitudes and behaviours.
However, cognitive dissonance is most painful to people when some significant part of their beliefs about themselves is threatened. This usually occurs when they have done something that is inconsistent with their image of themselves. If a person has a fairly positive self-concept, believing herself reasonably smart, competent, and moral, she will use self-justification as a way to preserve her positive self-image.
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