“Love has no desire but to fulfill itself. To melt and be like a running brook that sings its melody to the night. To wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks for another day of loving.” – Kahlil Gibran
We all have ideas in our minds about the type of partner that we aspire to be in a relationship. For many, this image is of a partner who is loving, kind, considerate, generous, patient, and thoughtful. Sometimes things get in the way of being the type of partner that we would like to be. Often, what gets in the way is the “psychological smog” that clouds our thinking about ourselves and our partners.
Layers of Clouded Thinking in Relationships
In order to decipher and clear out the “smog” we first must understand the various layers that make up this clouded thinking. According to the Acceptance and Commitment Therapy book ACT with Love, this “smog” is composed of the following layers. Notice the typical corresponding thoughts that reside in each layer, paying special attention to your own patterns of thinking.
The Should Layer:
- Why should I even bother with this?
- This isn’t my problem; I’m not the one who should change.
- She shouldn’t have treated/talked to me that way.
- He should just apologize and admit he made a mistake.
- Relationships shouldn’t be this difficult.
The No Point in Trying Layer:
- It’s too late. The damage is already done. There’s no point in trying to repair this.
- He’ll never change, so why bother making the effort?
The If Only Layer:
- If only he would just get his act together …
- If only he would be more emotionally available …
- If only she would just get off my back/leave me alone …
The Painful Past Layer:
- Dwelling on painful memories from the past.
- Focusing on times when things have gone wrong in the relationship.
- Placing greater importance on painful memories than positive/loving memories.
The Scary Future Layer:
- I’ll just get hurt.
- He’ll take advantage of me somehow.
- She’ll never change.
- He’ll just do it again.
The Reason-Giving Layer:
- I’m just too depressed/tired/run down.
- I’m happy with who I am. She’s the one who needs to change.
- I just don’t care anymore.
- I’m too old to change.
- If he changes first, then I’ll change.
The Judgment Layer:
- He’s a loser. He doesn’t deserve my respect.
- She’s such a bitch. Why should I be nice to her?
- He’s the one with the issues, not me.
- He doesn’t deserve to be treated well.
The I Know Why Layer:
- He’s just doing this to hurt me.
- She’s doing this on purpose.
- She could change if she really wanted to.
- He’s just hostile towards all women.
What did you notice as you read through typical thoughts associated with these layers of psychological “smog?” Do you notice any personal tendencies in your own current or past relationships? As Harris (2009) points out, “It is not your thoughts that create the smog. They only turn into smog when you hold onto them.”
In a previous post, I discussed the various ways that people can D-R-A-I-N love from their relationships. Notice the connection between the ways that we drain love and these layers of psychological smog. When we get sucked into our habitual patterns of negative (and often distorted) thinking, we are no longer making accurate assessments of our relationship. We are seeing things from a warped perspective.
As long as we choose to remain attached to entrenched, negative, or distorted patterns of thinking, we are not opening ourselves up to our partners nor are we ever fully present in the moment. When we are immersed in layers of psychological “smog” we are seeing a distorted view of reality that is mired down by cognitive distortions.
Begin by asking yourself what it would take to loosen your grip on the need to jump to these automatic thoughts. How would your relationship be different in a positive way if you were to practice more mindfulness and allow yourself to let go of the need to place value or judgment onto every thought or feeling. Notice how your relationship shifts when you consciously choose to let go of these negative thought patterns.
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Harris, R. (2009). ACT with love: Stop struggling, reconcile differences, and strengthen your relationship with acceptance and commitment therapy. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.
Featured image: Heart Cloud by Pink Sherbet Photography / CC BY 2.0