Unhealthy Relationship Behaviors: When Rationalization Is All You Do.
What Does Rationalization Look Like?
Picture this scenario: You're walking through a national chain grocery store finishing up some shopping. You've got everything on your list but you're still wandering the aisles, seeing if anything catches your eye. You come across a display for a new soft drink flavor. You're intrigued so you grab one and open it, taking a long drink. The flavor isn't to your liking. You don't want to finish it and you also don't want to pay for it since you don't like it. Looking around you see that no one is around so, you place the open can behind some of the other non-open cans and continue down the aisle. At checkout, you don't mention the drink you opened and you don't pay for it. In your head, you think "this chain makes billions of dollars a year, one can of soda isn't going to matter at all." You know that it's wrong to not pay for an item but you didn't like it and it won't matter much if at all to the store's financial success. Congratulations, you just rationalized a negative behavior.
How Does This Apply to Relationships?
First, we have to be honest with ourselves, none of us are perfect. We all have our faults. We all have baggage that we carry with us into every new relationship we enter. Some of us have trust issues, some of us become distant or closed off when stressed, some of us have trouble expressing emotions that would leave us vulnerable. These in themselves are not a problem granted that we, as individuals, are willing to work on them to become healthier and better partners.
Where problems arise are when these issues become all-consuming within the individual and they, in turn, are taken out on a partner. For example; a person with trust issues may constantly assume or accuse their partner of cheating or lying to them about what they're doing in their free time. If this is an issue that arises early in the relationship and is then subdued by the building of trust, it is unlikely to come up again. The problem is when these accusations are constant no matter what the other person does to show that they are in fact, not cheating/lying. If the accused continues the relationship they may fall into the trap of rationalizing their partner's behavior. Endless accusatory texts or phone calls will be brushed away with statements like:
- They were cheated on before and have trust issues, I understand where they're coming from.
- They just worry about me and want to make sure I'm okay.
- They love me so much they just want to make sure I know that.
- One time I didn't tell them every detail of what I was doing so it's my fault they don't fully trust me.
These are all rationalizations of problematic behavior. Love or the perception of love can blind us to these issues. We think that we are helping the other person by being there for them. Instead, this rationalization causes positive reinforcement of the problematic behavior in the other person. We shoulder the blame and accept fault when we have done nothing wrong. This can create a cycle that can lead to emotional abuse.
How Can You Break this Cycle?
There is no clear cut way to break this cycle outside of ending the relationship. Every other potential option involves the other person, the one with the problematic behavior, accepting they have an issue and deciding they want to work through it. Some of the options for this course of action involve:
- Identifying the issue to your partner and explaining how their behavior makes you feel.
- Seeking counseling to work through the issue.
- Setting firm boundaries of what is and isn't acceptable behavior.
As people, we have an innate desire to help others around us. We want to support the people we care about. Sometimes, this can come as a great detriment to ourselves. We can become lost in trying to help another person and sacrifice too much of ourselves in the process.
The problematic behavior of constantly accusing a partner of cheating/lying is not the only issue that can lead to unhealthy rationalization. It is just one of many that can arise within a relationship.
There may come a time when the only option is to leave the situation, no matter what the issue actually is. While this can be painful, we have a right to be happy and in a healthy relationship. Sometimes the healthiest decision we can make is also the most painful.