Relationships and the Consistency Principle

Today I am going to tell you a story. On the surface, it will appear to be about relationships. But if you look a little bit deeper, you might see that this lesson applies everywhere.

Last night a friend of a friend asked me about relationship related beliefs. I overtly dodged the question, saying, “I don’t answer that question. It might make me weaker if I did.” It’s worth expanding on that to uncover why.

If you read my blog enough you’ll learn about the tools of persuasion. The one I used above is the consistency principle: Once you commit to a position, your mind resists you letting go of it. This is well known among everyone from salesmen, to trial lawyers, to master negotiators, to me.

When I say this, you might think I’m referring only to the uncomfortable feeling of changing your mind or finding out you are wrong. You can see it on someone’s face when they shift their position internally. That’s a feeling we humans generally try to avoid. But it goes deeper than that.

After you adopt a position, you subconsciously align your thoughts, feelings, and behavior with that position. The more you commit to it, the harder it becomes to change. Eventually, you get stuck concerned with the definition of something because in the past you committed yourself to (for example) “all breakups should be amicable.” If your position is based off a rule that exists only in your mind, you are ignoring the situation at hand.

Now look: By avoiding a committed position on what a relationship should be, I remain free to modify my position later when I find a better fit.

When you rely on an internal rule, your mind often sums (incorrectly) a complex multi-variable problem into a gut response based off whatever rule you were paying attention to at the time.

You might agree that the gut gives you a useful response. I agree that it does, sometimes. But your gut response is your instinctive reaction to exactly one imagined scenario. That is what the science of Daniel Kahneman says about intuition. After your gut makes a decision and you go with it, the impact of additional information drops like a rock. You literally hallucinate that it is unimportant and behave like you would if you hadn’t heard it.

The reality is that every situation is different. The qualities of a good relationship change depending on the context. At 16, you want something different from when you are 35. And in either of those cases, a good result looks different whether you are employed or not, going to night classes or not. You might want someone who takes up a lot of your time or very little. Your previous commitments about this will effect your behavior here, whether you like it or not. It’s the difference between taking the time to smile at someone and not even noticing them because “they aren’t my type”.

By the way, if you want your significant other to get you something nice for Christmas, now is a good time to ask them: “We get along really well, wouldn’t you agree?”


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