The Halo Effect In Marriage

I watched a video last night where supporters of a particular candidate were read statements that they thought he had said (Hitler actually said them) and the supporters rallied behind these statements. Now I know how the media works here. Good video footage means showing the handful of people that look foolish because the video is more likely to go viral. This one did not disappoint.

In the video, the interviewer tells a guy that the statements are actually from Hitler and asks the guy if he still supports the statements. The guy responds, “I don’t support Hitler. But if Trump said it then I support the statements.”

The video is really supposed to point out how people blindly follow some of the candidates without using critical thinking to determine who should get their vote. But, the reality is that there is something about the human condition that causes us to rally behind some people and not others; to see tons of positive characteristics when others see none, or the opposite, to see all the bad and not the good.

Ever heard of the halo effect?
The halo effect is a psychological principle that says we are likely to see someone as all good or all bad. We have a hard time seeing that a person can have both good and bad characteristics. This concept was discovered by Thorndike back in the 20’s when he saw correlations between  a soldier’s physique and intelligence when rated by others. If the soldier looked more fit, he was also observed by others to be smarter. In psychological research, there are several studies to show that we believe things about someone’s character based on the outer appearance of the person.

And how does this tie into marriage?
Even in marriage we can get wrapped up in the halo effect. In fact, prior to getting married many couples have a hard time seeing the “bad” characteristics or qualities in their soon to be spouse. They really believe that their marriage will not be as hard as others they’ve seen, they won’t disagree as often as other couples, they’ll not go through times when they feel distant from one another…

There’s a halo effect in play (for many couples) prior to getting married.

The problem with the halo effect is that we can change our minds from “everything about you is good” to “everything about you is bad.”

For an example of that…look at the overwhelming support a presidential candidate can get prior to election versus the disdain that people can have for him a few years into his position. The same people can go from “He’s going to do a great job” to “He’s the worst president America has ever suffered through.”

But – we can do the same in marriage. Many couples feel that they’ve fallen out of love and that they’ll never get the attraction back that they once had for their spouse. Yes…the same spouse that at one point they believed they loved so fully that they wanted to spend their lives together.

The halo effect’s effect on problem solving:
The problem with the halo effect is that if causes you to see people as all good or all bad. It makes it incredibly difficult to evaluate a characteristic all by itself, determine if the characteristic is one you like or one you don’t, and then to form an overall evaluation.

“We argue every day” becomes “I don’t see us ever loving each other again.”

Friend, consistent arguing sucks, but it doesn’t mean you’re in a hopeless situation. It may just mean you’re affected by the halo effect.

Quite possibly, you’ve been seeing your spouse as “bad” when the problem is actually that your spouse has an undesirable characteristic that needs to change.

By the way, I’ve yet to meet a couple where the arguing is the fault of only one spouse. Every person has their role to play in an argument. One of the main ways for conflict to decrease is for each spouse to understand the role they play in making the arguments continue.

In your marriage, if you’ve come to the place where you feel like you just can’t move forward and things can’t get better, there’s a good chance that the halo effect is telling you there’s no hope.

Overcoming the halo effect:
So how does someone get away from the “all bad” mindset? It takes breaking down the situation into several parts.

First, don’t label your spouse as “angry, mean, lazy, disrespectful, unkind, unloving” or any other negative description that you’ve been using.

Become incredibly literal when you discuss a problem and stick to just the issue at hand. Instead of saying, “You’re so lazy,” tell your spouse a behavior that bothers you. “I really don’t like when you leave your dirty underwear on the floor. Will you please start putting them in the hamper?”

Overcoming the halo effect takes separating the behavior from the person; not to ignore the behavior, but to make problem-solving about changing a specific behavior instead of simply seeing your spouse as a problem. 

Here’s hoping that your disagreements are productive and making you more like Christ.

Blessings on you and your marriage!

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