Is Confirmation Bias limiting your marriage?

Ever heard of confirmation bias? An over-simplified short definition would be “seeing only what you expect to see”. More accurately, it means searching for or interpreting data in a way that favours what you already believe to be true. A common way this plays out in life is what news we choose to follow – conservatives follow conservative stations and commentators, while liberals follow liberal sources and commentators, libertarians follow libertarian commentators, and so on. Rather than looking at all sides and possibly finding information that conflicts with what we want the truth to be, we limit ourselves to things which supports what we want to think. While this is comfortable and common human nature, it does not allow us to deal with reality well.

© Paul H. Byerly (with a hat tip to Heath Hinegardner)

I see several ways confirmation bias can hurt your marriage:

  • You become convinced your wife is something (a nag, grumpy, always negative) and you only see what she does that fits the label, while missing what she does that conflicts with the label.
  • When you and your wife argue, you seek out support from friends who you know will agree with you, rather than looking for impartial people who can help you and your wife come to an agreement.
  • When your wife says you are wrong about something, you hit the Internet to find sources “proof” you are right, rather than honestly looking for the truth.
  • You are so sure she will say no to sex you do not even ask – and some of those times she would have said yes!

Confirmation bias is easy, natural, and comfortable, but it insulates us from reality. If we do not confront reality, we can never deal with it. My suggestion is you fight confirmation bias not just in your marriage, but in your life in general. Truth, real truth, can stand up to scrutiny, and a bit of scepticism is healthy.

Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” [Acts 17:11 ESV]

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© Paul H. Byerly (with a hat tip to Heath Hinegardner)

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4 Comments on “Is Confirmation Bias limiting your marriage?

  1. This is a Monumental Post, in my opinion, and timed perfectly at the beginning of the year when we are open for change and improvement. Unfortunately we, or at least I am famous for this Conformation Bias in most all aspects of my life, on the job, in the home, with virtually every team that I am on. It will certainly Hold you back and if nothing else Keep you right where you are and can be discouraging.
    As the head or leader and lets just look at the family or home it is our position to set an example for all to follow with the hopes and expectations that others will follow our lead and emulate. Just as we take our lead from Christ and put on Love, humility, kindness and compassion, to best of our ability, so too those that look to us need and deserve the opportunity to aspire, grow and move. I have found most times the responses we get from others is brought on by our own actions, past or present. However, the actions of outsiders can also influence how we treat and are treated, as we do allow learned responses from others to infiltrate our family and jade, even corrupt our perception and ultimately our responses to those we love.
    This is where it is paramount that we look at and to God, realize and recognize His amazing unconditional response toward us always and attempt to duplicate it. Just as we would not want others including God to ever give up on us, concluding that we will never change or respond differently. We too, need to be willing to give that same unconditional pass out, including to ourselves in some instances. Shut down the Dog House, if you will, banishment there rarely encourages growth, it most times stimulates resentment. Leading by example requires and even demands us to hope and seek and search for opportunities for all to do better. To allow, encourage and see others as well as ourselves desire to, aspire to and then ultimately change. Some of us are slow learners, but that doesn’t mean we ever eliminate the teaching, as for then it is for sure there will be no learning.

    • Brian – You are right in everything you say. However, don’t be caught off guard by those who defend confirmation bias as somehow right and godly. Any time you question the status quo, you can expect to be called a radical, a heretic, a trouble maker and so on. (Sort of like Jesus, Paul, and the rest of the early church leaders were!),

      • Well, I am certainly ok being called out if I have company like that and my motives are well based. I think the proof is keeping in the contest of the Word and attempting to keep your heart pure. He sees and knows your heart.

  2. Pingback: Chapter 2: Developing the Whole Person – tl; dr

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