Getting blindsided in any kind of relationship is horrible. Whether it’s a dating relationship, well into a marriage, a friendship, or a working relationship, it never feels good to feel blindsided. You think you know someone. You think you understand who they are and then they hurt you in ways that are so confusing and painful.
However, have you unknowingly blocked your own ability to see someone’s true character and traits?
Are you able to recognize a true fit or dealbreakers early in a relationship?
TIP # 1: BE AWARE OF CONFIRMATION BIAS
Confirmation bias is a psychological phenomenon that influences your perceptions to confirm what you think or believe.
You see or experience what you expect or want. Your brain is actually primed to look for that and only notice what affirms and validates your beliefs. Sometimes you see things that are not there, quite literally. Law enforcement agents will tell you that eyewitnesses are not very reliable because the brain remembers what someone expected to see.
Confirmation bias happens in relationships as well. Your beliefs about an individual, and even about yourself, influence what you perceive. You are more likely to hear and interpret conversations in ways that may not be quite accurate.
You tell yourself little lies in order to believe what you want to believe:
” They are just going through a lot.”
“They were having a bad day.”
You justify behavior to confirm what you want to believe. Understandably, this can cause a lot of confusion and conflict in your interactions with people. The way you remember things is shaped by your confirmation bias.
TIP # 2: PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR INTUITION
Confirmation bias often contributes to you ignoring your intuition. You meet someone, you start dating them and maybe you really want them to be just the kind of partner you’d like to date.
Sometimes you can’t even articulate what it is or why it is that you are having an uneasy feeling. It’s important to just know that you are having an uneasy feeling because your intuition is competing with your confirmation bias at that point.
Intuition is data. Data from your brain for you about the situation and about the person. Your intuition is a part of your brain and your psyche that is communicating with you. Have a conversation internally with your intuitive voice so that you can be well aware of what your mind is trying to tell you.
You’re looking for traits in this person that confirm they are what you are looking for in a partner. This clouds your ability to recognize the signs that this person is not actually what you’re looking for at all. Your intuition gives you little red flags, but you are more likely to ignore them if you really want this person to be a fit for you. If you want to believe that someone is a decent, nice human being who doesn’t mean you harm, then you are going to interpret things that they say and do through that lens because that’s what you want to believe.
TIP # 3: LISTEN TO OTHER PEOPLE IN YOUR LIFE
Listen particularly to people who know you well. Other people in your life don’t have the same confirmation biases that you have. They are going to have their own beliefs and values and their own expectations so they will have their own confirmation bias but it will be different than yours. They’re going to have a different perspective.
They’re also not going to be invested in that relationship in the way that you are. Listen to people that you trust and if they are concerned about a relationship you’re in, then that is a red flag.
A therapist or a coach is going to be able to give you a much more unbiased perspective.
If other people are saying to you, “Hey, we’re seeing some really concerning things here,” listen to their concerns. Listening to someone’s concerns doesn’t mean that you have to agree with them. Hear them out.
In my work with neurodiverse couples, I see this regularly. Individual partners who have sometimes been married for years and decades have projected their hopes and beliefs onto the relationship. The result is a lot of pain and devastation. It feels like a bait and switch when a partner is consistently different from what was expected. A lot of my clients say, ” I feel like I was presented with one person, and now I’m getting this entirely different person as my partner.”
It’s not an intentional bait-and-switch for most people, particularly neurodivergent partners who often try hard to meet social expectations.
When a couple discusses marriage with a partner, each partner may believe the other has similar expectations for the marriage.
- Who’s going to work?
- Who manages household chores, cooking, car maintenance, etc.?
- Will there be children?
- Will someone leave a career stay home with the children
- Who’s going to manage finances?
- Where are they going to live?
Partners both have beliefs about the relationship as well.
- How often will they have sex?
- How will they spend quality time?
- Are birthdays and anniversaries going to be a big celebration or a small acknowledgment?
- Where will holidays be spent?
- How will you continue to give and receive love?
To avoid feeling blindsided years down the road, or if you are already far into a relationship, actively pursue conversations with your partner that foster clarity, and remember to bring an open mind. Your partner’s opinions and beliefs are just valid as yours even if they are quite different.