Couples typically begin counseling with a barrage of ego-involved exchanges, punctuated by the infamous win-lose, blame mentality. Both individuals immersed in me-think are convinced that they are right about the issues at hand–game on! The bad news is that this relentless war-of-words can derail therapeutic progress at any time. Moreover, when blatant narcissism is on display premature termination of treatment is the likely outcome. The good news is that when couples are willing and able to “switch gears” and acknowledge that conflict situations are more often than not, co-created, me-think is supplanted by couplethink and a mutual learning mindset is established.
The Role of Groupthink
The benefits and pitfalls of groupthink are well documented in the literature and familiar to the general population. The shared beliefs and values of like-minded individuals provide a sense of “connection,” of course, but the absence of individual thought and separateness inherent in groupthink limits self-reflection and self-awareness. When one partner’s fixed (groupthink) ideas are perceived by the other partner as absurd, conflict is inevitable.
The examples below illustrate the invasion of groupthink and its potentially damaging effects.
1. One partner is wired to believe that “love alone is sufficient to save the day,” the other partner believes that doing the “work”, discussing conflict and seeking to resolve differences, is necessary to preserve their mutual love and respect. One partner doing most or all of the work yields diminishing returns for both partners.
2. One partner believes in “love at first sight” and wishes to commit during the idealized romantic phase, the other more grounded partner, wishes to embrace every phase of the love-cycle before committing to living together or getting married.
3. One partner learned early in life that “It is always better to give than to receive”, the other partner challenges this idea and strives for a balance of giving and receiving. The giver’s reluctance to receive is experienced as controlling and distancing.
4. One partner learned that “a higher power will get us through,” whereas the other partner is resentful of this deferential stance and wishes to adopt a more active approach to conflict resolution.
5. One partner conforms to the belief that “arguing has no place in a loving relationship”, the other partner views such an idea as preposterous and recognizes that arguments, confrontation, and conflict present opportunities for learning.
6. “Staying together is best for the children,” a noble idea to be sure, is a widely held truism that is part and parcel of the groupthink culture. However, further scrutiny reveals that fixation on this option can have disastrous consequences, among these, are the children being raised in a toxic environment, and the parent’s ongoing co-existence in “pretend mode.”
The consistent and persistent adherence to the affirmations, beliefs, and values described above (variations of groupthink) provide advocates with a range of psychological, emotional and spiritual benefits. However, when these individuals engage with partners whose mindset is less stringent, conflict is inevitable and irreparable schisms are often the result. Conversely, once they are reassessed and re-evaluated they may be modified or renounced altogether. The objective in the counseling setting and at home is for couples to acknowledge their influence and neutralize their negative effects.