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Health & Wellbeing

Implicit Bias and Divorce: 5 Steps to Self-Discovery

The longer you live together, the more you expose your implicit bias – which could turn minor annoyances from the beginning of your relationship into deal-breakers.

implicit bias

Implicit bias is a relatively recent concept in psychology/psychiatry which attempts to describe the unconscious prejudices and stereotypes which every person forms without conscious awareness. It is human nature to have biases, whether we want to admit it or not. Biases are formed through our education and experience, as well as our culture and history. It is generally recognized that our minds form biases based on unconscious associations over time. Ironically, intelligence has nothing to do with it. In fact, the more intelligent one is, the higher the likelihood that you have implicit bias. 

Here’s What You Need to Know About Implicit Bias

We are unaware of 90% of our minds. Science explains that our minds are like icebergs, with our conscious awareness represented by the 10% of the iceberg above the surface of the water, and our unconscious represented by the 90% of the iceberg below the surface of the water. There is a test available online known as the Implicit Association Test (IAT), which was developed by psychologist Tony Greenwald and has torn the cover off implicit bias. It demonstrates that our concepts of “good/bad,” “right/wrong,” and “like/dislike” are the result of implicit bias and no one is free from bias. As we become more familiar with the fact that a large part of our minds is unknown to us, we become keenly aware of the effects of our unconscious on our conscious minds. More specifically, when the conscious mind conflicts with our unconscious mind, the higher the chances are we have anxiety, stress, and ultimately, burnout.

What does all of this have to do with relationships and divorce?

Many times, marriages fail, and we don’t know why. People “grow apart,” “change,” or “fall out of love.” What happens is that the longer people live together, the more their implicit bias is exposed. As a result, those minor annoyances at the beginning of a relationship become game changers as time marches on, often leading to divorce. In coaching individuals who are experiencing failed relationships or going through divorce, I often find that there are unconscious traumas, beliefs, decisions, emotions, or thoughts that conflict with their goals, work, expectations, and dreams. Willpower and determination only make the conflict worse. Like struggling in quicksand, white knuckles and clenched jaws only serve to make the struggle with hidden blocks more intense and lethal. Clients describe the effect metaphorically like driving a car with one foot fully on the gas pedal and the other fully on the brake pedal. They feel like their wheels are spinning and yet they are not going anywhere. They feel stuck and their relationships falter.

Having a new conscious experience of reality

The new neuroscience behind implicit bias confirms that the unconscious has a great deal to do with our conscious experience of reality. Thus, the proposition that healing or releasing unconscious negative memories, decisions, beliefs, and traumas can greatly improve your experience is real. You can start to see your partner for who they are, instead of what you think they are, and start communicating on a deeper level.

Here are five ways to help you discover your implicit bias:

  • Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs pyramidMake a chart of personal likes and dislikes. How you decide which column to put items in is probably a result of implicit bias.
  • Make a list of what you believe. Then ask yourself “why do I believe that? When did I decide that was true? What if it wasn’t true?”
  • List the negative emotions that you experience daily, whether it is fear, sadness, anger, guilt, shame, terror, depression, rage, hate, jealousy, lust, or disgust. Then list what you were thinking immediately before you felt the emotion. That thought probably was the conscious manifestation of an implicit bias.
  • When you consider what you don’t like about your life, identify what beliefs you would have to change your life. Any resistance to changing your beliefs would come from implicit bias.
  • Look at what you want in life and consider these are based on implicit bias. Even Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs (Physiological, Safety, Connection, Esteem, and Self-fulfillment) is based on implicit bias.

Once we become aware of our implicit bias, we can decide whether to change. Until we are aware, we are like puppets being controlled by these biases. Our implicit biases doom us to repeat mistakes with either choosing partners or managing our relationships. Here are some common hidden unconscious biases (decisions) I often encounter:

  • I am a fraud
  • I don’t deserve to be happy
  • I am a victim
  • Relationships are hard
  • You must work hard and sacrifice to be successful
  • Relationships are painful
  • I always pick hateful partners
  • Other people are lucky, not me.
  • I am not good enough
  • I should be ashamed

If you say these things to yourself, notice your body’s reaction to the statement. Does it feel correct or is it a lie? The problem is your conscious mind can’t tell you. You can only discern the effects of these biases through behavior and physical and emotional symptoms. If you are exhibiting the symptoms of stress (mental and physical exhaustion, decreasing performance, negative emotions like blame, shame, guilt, or despair), you may have implicit bias that is conflicting with your conscious desires. Another way of detecting implicit bias is how you perceive the world. The world reflects your inner thoughts, emotions, and beliefs. In other words, you see what you look for and we are always looking for evidence that our beliefs are correct. If you believe that you are not good enough, you will focus on all of the evidence that you don’t measure up even though your belief is incorrect. You will unconsciously associate with people who will confirm that you are defective. Implicit bias makes relationship problems the fault of your partner when, in fact, we are the problem. When we understand that our subconscious is planting landmines in our relationships, we can start to understand what happened. When we understand what happened, we can choose a different relationship with ourselves and a partner.