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What is the Backfire Effect?

Have you ever been in a fight with your spouse where they refused to acknowledge your position or validate your point of view despite being presented with actual facts that your position had merit? If that sounds familiar, you, and your relationship, have been impacted by the “Backfire Effect.”

What the heck is that? Well, it’s an actual psychological phenomena. When a person with an ingrained belief is presented with proof that their belief might actually be wrong, instead of rethinking it, or considering the possibility of compromise, they actually dig in HARDER. All of your evidence has actually BACKFIRED on you, and made the situation more intractable.

Have you ever had that conversation where you are accused of being something you’re not? You present example after example to your spouse that you’re not what they’ve accused you of (controlling, bitchy, wasteful, lazy…) but they refuse to even compromise? This leaves you filled with self-doubt about your own self-perception, and/or resentful towards your spouse who seemingly refuses to acknowledge reality. Why would they be so hard-nosed and difficult when their belief clearly isn’t TRUE?

Well, the answer is that your spouse isn’t going to change their negative beliefs because to do that would force your spouse to actually question their OWN self-identity. When it comes to divorce, often each of us is acting out of beliefs held about our spouse that have formed to protect ourselves from uncomfortable feelings of shame and blame surrounding a failing relationship. To consider that ingrained beliefs could be wrong actually subconsciously sends us into “fight or flight” response. In the context of our relationships, it’s easier to form a negative belief about a spouse and stick with it, than it is to consider compromise or to engage in self-reflection.

The good news is, that once you know what the “Backfire Effect” you can plan strategies to avoid it. Change the narrative surrounding conversations about divorce. It’s not about proving who’s right or wrong. It’s not about assigning blame and shame. It’s about finding a path forward that’s healthy for everyone.

Believing in a happy future is hopefully one belief everyone can hold without worrying about it backfiring.

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