There has been a lot of fall out from the Jerry Sandusky/Penn State case. The whole sordid mess has left a lot of people in shock over how high level officials and the winningest football coach could have allowed this despicable behavior to continue for years. If you understand the halo effect and the power of group think, any surprise should be qualified.
I think the hardest thing to accept is the role of Joe Paterno. His reputation, his “halo” as you will, was one of a man of integrity who won the “right way”. Those people who knew Jerry Sandusky have had difficulty wrapping their heads around his behavior. The task of squaring JoePa’s image with his human failings is exponentially more devastating.
The truth is that most human beings are complicated. They are an amalgam of both good and not so good characteristics. It is only when that is lost sight of that the potential for trouble becomes apparent.
The Impact of the “Halo” Effect
I remember my senior year in high school and how my friends and I were always out of class. Because we were the “good” kids, we got the benefit of the halo effect and were never questioned by any teacher or administrator who ran across us. If any of us had a reputation as a “bad” kid, our butts would have been in the Vice-Principal’s Office so fast everyone’s head would still be spinning.
Unfortunately, this reverse “halo” effect is often on display in marriage. It presents itself as an intense laser focus on your partner’s failings in your relationship. Terry Real refers to this as your Core Negative Image of your partner. Your CNI is the vision of your partner that you feel most hopeless and frightened about. It is the generalization you fall into whenever your partner disappoints you or lets you down. It is how you view your partner in the most difficult, most irrational, and least-loving moments.
This negative view of your partner is often exaggerated by your own group think when you get together with your friends or confide in your family. When you start commiserating about the short-comings of your partner specifically, and all members of their gender generally, this negative image is reinforced.
Reverse “Halo” and Your Marriage
This image, which is held close and carefully nurtured, impacts how you respond to your partner all the time. Instead of giving your partner the benefit of the doubt and promoting your marriage, you see their behavior through this negative lens and end up polluting the relationship.
In fact, it may be easier to overlook good behavior than it is bad, if that’s your typical mindset. This is probably because of the inherent power a negative interaction contains. Since it takes five positive interactions to balance that power, if you view your relationship through a negative lens, intermittent positive behaviors may not even register with you.
Neither your nor your partner’s behavior are all good or all bad. There is some of each. People are more complex than most of us want to acknowledge. When we can categorize them in some way, it makes it easier. This simplification has a way of backfiring. Just ask those associated with Penn State.
What is your Core Negative Image of your partner? How do you respond when your partner does something that doesn’t fit? What would help you give them the benefit of the doubt?
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Check out Lesli’s book today and how you can take the work out of your marriage.
Photo: Thomas Nyugen