The Role of Denial in the Coupledom: How many more times before the year is out, will another powerful man be exposed as a philanderer? Will we see more women standing at podiums reminding us of the old ballad, “Stand By Your Man”? For the Coupledom, what can be learned here? In one word, the adverse consequences of the defense known as Denial.
Denial Demands Equal Partnership: Both parties participate in the dance of denial. Someone senses a change, and the other denies it. A pattern of behavior is apparent, but no one acknowledges that pattern. Where does it go from there? It may be true that men of power, ego and money have more chances to wander, and their women more ways to distract themselves from the wanderings: money, fame, incentives to blindness. But both parties are choreographing the same dance, let’s pretend. Relationships/Marriages invite denial because of the very serious ramifications that truth can bring. But here is the antidote: start with the truth and go from there. If one of you in the relationship notices a difference in behavior, a distractedness, a chasm widening, start asking questions. If you do not get answers that satisfy, go get help. Reaching out to professionals signifies to your partner that this is serious.
Courtship and Denial: I have often heard the comment, “I knew from the start that I shouldn’t get involved”. Or “I knew I shouldn’t marry him or her”. What does that tell us? That denial and/or avoidance were active defenses which prevented individuals from letting “truth” determine outcome.Dismissing one’s gut feelings, instincts or actual knowledge often play a large role. Instead, magical thinking and groundless hopefulness claim the day. Whenever I hear that someone has ended an engagement, or canceled a wedding, I am impressed by their courage and willingness to forsake conventionality for prevention and truth.
Denial, Avoidance, Magical Thinking and Compartmentalization: The four horsemen of the apocalypse, not exactly but close. All genders utilize these defenses against unpleasant or uncomfortable truths. Women seem prone to magical thinking, men to compartmentalization. Both are drawn to denial and avoidance. All four defenses take turns when a couple veers away from confronting difficult truths. Wishing and hoping, dreaming and praying, whatever your motif, will not protect you or your partner from the traps set up by life’s complications.
Tiger’s Tale: What role did denial play in the relationship? Certainly for Tiger Woods, denial of the damage his behavior would bring to himself and his family was active. Distortion or entitlement can muddle reality. Compulsions and addictions can be underestimated. Spouses can delude themselves into thinking that “love” can change their partners. All sorts of mind games also known as psychological defenses can make the partner or spouse deceive themselves as they are being deceived.
Truth as a Trust Builder: What role does truth play in a relationship? With truth comes responsibility, often with an immediate price tag that is quite high: in a courtship, it may mean ending the relationship before you get too involved; once committed, it can mean confronting the partner with the feelings and or the facts, and seeking help together to determine the best possible direction. A far steeper price results when reality is avoided, and the outcome is humiliation and the dissolution of any possibility of rebuilding trust. Frequently it impacts innocent bystanders, children. Truth, on the other hand, when mutually tackled, is a trust builder. It takes strength and it builds strength.
Infidelity is Not the Only Deal Breaker: Other patterns are often denied, overlooked or underestimated: addictions of all kinds; values that are questionable. Whatever the uncomfortable truth, bringing it out and asking your partner to deal openly with you about the problem opens possibilities. Avoiding and denying the power of the patterns, or twisting your mind around to accept simplistic rationalizations or repeatedly unmet promises, make you an active partner in the dance of denial, a player in “let’s pretend”. It takes two to pull off this game. Don’t play and the game ends.
Truth Takes Courage: Denial is a common strategy, often unconscious, that people use to avoid the unpleasant. Denial operates to help avoid loss, separation, giving up something and someone who gives you a semblance of security, however illusory. Some consciously believe that it works for the elderly, the sick and young children. Some believe it never works. Know which camp you are in, amongst those who think denial or avoidance are viable strategies for survival or are you one who believes that tackling reality, with its uncomfortable truths, leaves you stronger and better equipped. If you are in the group who is inclined to look the other way, take note: for the Coupledom this can be a fatal choice.
©jill edelman, M.S.W.,L.C.S.W.