love out loud: attribution theory and the other woman
Upon seeing my friend, Elizabeth Taylor, in the bathroom of a bar one Saturday evening, the girlfriend of a boy who Elizabeth Taylor had slept with remarked:
‘I wish I had a weapon.’
On the one hand, I could understand why this girl would lash out. E.T. had knowingly had sex with her boyfriend while she was with him, but even though I don’t agree with pursuing or fooling around with other people’s partners, the responsibility to maintain fidelity in their relationship rested squarely on solely on this guy’s shoulders. It was his violation of trust, not E.T.’s. This girl’s anger was largely misplaced, however understandable it might be, but the explanation for it is rather simple.
Psychology is actually a pretty easy discipline if you can think of things in your own life that exemplify the theories you learn about. One such example is attribution theory, which is basically a fancy way of explaining what we blame or otherwise hold responsible for the things that happen in our life.
There are many different aspects to this theory, but one of the more interesting ones is how we ‘attribute’ responsibility, dependent on whether an event/action/whatever is perceived to be a success or a failure (keep in mind that these are gravely generalised categories).
If we succeed, we think it’s due to things about us personally; perhaps that we’re hard working or charming. If we fail, we blame external factors, like a bus running late or a teacher including material in an exam that they never taught (which never actually happens).
It makes us feel good to think that we did something well, and also makes us feel better to think that what we didn’t do so well was someone else’s fault.
The reason that people will usually blame the ‘other’ person when their partner cheats on them is that it’s easier to think that it was this one person’s fault. That they seduced or manipulated whoever they were with, and that had they not been around, their partner would’ve stayed forever faithful. This is sometimes true, but it also goes a long way in absolving the cheater of responsibility, when really, no one can be made to do anything they don’t want to do.
The circumstances naturally differ in each situation, but allowing yourself to place the blame on someone who most likely was not acting out of malice towards you (granted, your partner probably wasn’t either, but they had more to lose) detracts from the real issue. I’m not denying that it can be a good coping strategy, especially if you decide to stay with the person and need to somehow rebuild trust and love, but at some point, blaming another person for the fact that your partner hurt you just gets tedious.
Ultimately, the decision to jeopardise an existing relationship was that of the guy who cheated and his girlfriend has my utmost sympathy. But even though Elizabeth Taylor did do the wrong thing, the anger that the girlfriend continues to express toward her is little more than a mask for the fact that she’s not over her boyfriend having slept with someone else and in truth, no one has gotten out of this better off than before it had happened.
Don’t cheat, kids.
(Image credit: 1.)