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Solving relationship problems -Attribution Bias

Updated on November 10, 2012

Attribution theory and relationships

Solving Relationship Problems. Who is to blame?

Social Psychologists refer to attribution as "the process by which we observe others behaviour and then infer the causes behind it in a relatively systematic way." The cues that we observe are both verbal and non-verbal with the latter often being more important. It is how we make sense of our world. “I am what I think” the famous statement goes. I decide who I am because of the messages that I receive from my world. If someone smiles at me I receive a different message than if that same person frowns at me. We are selective in which messages we take note of and in so doing we protect our feeling about ourselves. If I behave in a certain way and I receive positive messages I increase those behaviors in order to receive more of those messages.

Attribution bias occurs when I ascribe to other people negative motives for their behavior while my negative actions are the result of conditions outside my control. So the couple in a conflict marriage situation will feel that if only their partner will change their negative behavior everything will get better. "It is because of his/her emotional problems that we are so unhappy." My situation that I find myself in is not my fault but the result of factors beyond my control. In this way I make sense of my world and protect my self image (ego).

So the conflict continues and so I am not at fault. “If only he/she will change” puts one into a lose/lose situation because thing are probably not going to change in the way that we would like them to.

Because of this a different mindset has to be developed. I am responsible for my own behavior. How I behave is not dependent on the circumstances that I find myself in but will change my situation. If my behavior is based on a knee jerk response to what happens around me I am in trouble. If I can avoid any negative behavior that hurts others and therefore ultimately myself, then my world will become a better place.

Changing my world has to start with the only person I really have control over and that is me. In counseling we call this 'the change first' principle. But it is so difficult to accept responsibility for my situation. It is much easier to blame the situation on someone else or the circumstances that I find myself in. Sometimes the only way to cope is to run away, but this is usually not the best option.


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    • kj force profile image

      kjforce 5 years ago from Florida

      Johan Smulders..first off in any relationship there are the takers and the givers..I say if they switch roles..ther relationship may survive , but only if they are takes two to make a relationship and sometimes they grow sour, just like a garden if you don't maintain..and some use the excuse of growing older to justify their negative actions...I think sometimes it's just too much work for some to be flexible..that's why I just answer " yes and no" who can argue with that ?

      Loved your hub, found very interesting...alot to think about..hmmm

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      It is necessary to face things head-on and not lay blame. Laying blame only causes negative emotions and solves nothing.

    • Johan Smulders profile image

      Johan Smulders 5 years ago from East London, South Africa

      Amen, well said!

    • abbykorinnelee profile image

      Abigayle Malchow 5 years ago from Ripon Wisconsin

      The worst thing my psych professor told us is to assign blame to anyone in a relationship. That when you assign blame to one person, that it damages the relationship and creates further problems. And to think you aren't to blame at all is egotistical in my takes two to tango