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What Kind of a File Are You Keeping? Part 1

When speaking about marriage: “No other relationship so profoundly tests the extent of our own willingness to be flexible and forgiving to learn and change—if we can resist the allure of self-justification.” ~ Carol Tarvris and Elliott Aaronson in Mistakes Were Made (but not by me)

Linda: Couples are enormously invested in making their marriage work. Partners strive to emphasize the positive and minimize the negative in an attempt to maintain harmony. But despite their efforts, many couples begin to keep a file of grievances that do not get properly addressed and mount up to become destructive.

Of course not every partnership deserves to be saved, but many are falling apart unnecessarily because one or both partners do not understand that they have a choice about how they think about the inevitable differences that all couples have. The unsuccessful couples have been deteriorating through a slow but insidious process. When a couple notices that they are caught in the downward spiral and have the motivation to change the pollution accumulating in their minds, it is possible to heal the relationship.

For the vast majority of couples who break up, there was not a dramatic incident of violence or betrayal. What is much more common is drifting apart because of avoidance, blame, accumulated incompletions, and justifications for not dealing with significant issues that have needed attention. Common justifications that are conversation stoppers are “That’s just who I am. “You knew who I was when you married me” and “If you don’t like it you can leave.” Such judgmental statements are designed to shut the other person up, and they do.

When a partner takes the victim position feeling abused or taken for granted, they feel superior to the other. They are sure that they are right, and over time respect is lost replaced by contempt on both sides. The couple disconnects, to become polarized in their positions, and eventually close their hearts because it is too painful to be held with contempt.

It is not the differences, misunderstandings, broken agreements, or even angry arguments that are the problem. It’s the harmful behavior and words that come out of righteousness, blame, and the justifications that make the other person bad and wrong. Not being able to understand the other person’s point of view and in some way validate their point of view as being legitimate is what takes the relationship down. While one person is busy being right the other person is feeling very wrong.

Perhaps our partner actually did make a mistake. If level of contempt has no room for an error our partner feels that. They get the feeling that not only did they make a mistake but that they are a mistake. It is no longer about skillful and unskillful choices, but becomes about our partners’ basic character flaws. When we elevate ourselves to being the “RIGHT” kind of person and our partner as the “WRONG” kind of person, we are damaging the foundation of trust.

When a relationship isn’t working well, since we need to preserve our self-image as a good person, the mind begins to make or partner bad and wrong. If left unchecked the process of making then into a demon can begin to seem quite real. And it is the characterization of the partner in a negative way that takes the marriage down.

When both partners stop collecting evidence to confirm their negative beliefs, and attempt to see the situation from a broader perspective, the gridlock can unclasp. There are thousands of couples that deteriorated into gloomy places and then course corrected. You can head off sinking low by learning early how to keep a relationship working well and can do the repair work necessary to restore wholesomeness only if you stay on task. It may be a strenuous discipline, but the rewards are sure to be big ones.

Stay tuned for Part 2 to discover the ways to counter self-righteousness.


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What Kind of a File Are You Keeping? Part 1


Linda Bloom LCSW and Charlie Bloom MSW are considered experts in the field of relationships. They have been married since 1972. They have both been trained as seminar leaders, therapists and relationship counselors and have been working with individuals, couples, and groups since 1975. They have been featured presenters at numerous conferences, universities, and institutions of learning throughout the country and overseas as well. They have appeared on over two hundred radio and TV programs. Linda and Charlie are co-authors of the widely acclaimed books: 101 Things I Wish I Knew When I Got Married: Simple Lessons to Make Love Last (over 100,000 copies sold) Secrets of Great Marriages: Real Truth from Real Couples about Lasting Love, and Happily Ever After...and 39 Other Myths about Love: Breaking Through to the Relationship of Your Dreams. The Blooms are excited to announce the release of their fourth book, That Which Doesn't Kill Us: How One Couple Became Stronger at the Broken Places. They live in Santa Cruz, California, near their two children and three grandchildren. To view our upcoming events and to sign up for our free newsletter, visit our website at:

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APA Reference
Bloom, L. (2019). What Kind of a File Are You Keeping? Part 1. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 10, 2020, from


Last updated: 10 May 2019
Statement of review: Psych Central does not review the content that appears in our blog network ( prior to publication. All opinions expressed herein are exclusively those of the author alone, and do not reflect the views of the editorial staff or management of Psych Central. Published on All rights reserved.