These 9 Cognitive Distortions Might Be Ruining Your Relationship

One of my boyfriend’s friend has an internal labyrinth, a maze, and a torturous arrangement he made with himself. He is convinced every woman will eventually leave him. He is terrified he will end up stranded, abandoned, and alone.

This belief taints his relationships.

He is aloof, dismissive, cold, to avoid getting too close. Or, he is possessive, holds on tightly, and becomes abusive as he becomes increasingly afraid of the power of his prophecy. Either way, it becomes painful and self-destructive to any woman who dares to stay.

According to a psychologist friend, this behavior is called a control fallacy.

This guy does not realize his behavior is ruining all his relationships. No woman can help him. He is the only one responsible for the traps he has set for his relationships and the only one with the ability to find the way out.

He is an example of how we create, conjure, and bring to our relationships all the things we fear the most.

Psychologists call these traps cognitive distortions. I’m not a psychologist, but I have a friend who is one. I listen to her. Cognitive distortions are the many ways our brain plays tricks on us. These distortions show we may doom our relationships without even realizing it.

If you want to build a loving relationship with your partner, watch out for these 9 cognitive distortions. They might be ruining your relationship.

1. Generalization

When my ex cheated on me with one of my close friends, I believed all men were cheaters. My shattered heart refused to accept the fact that not all men are cheaters.

I’m sure we have generalized in our relationships. One nasty breakup convinces us, we are terrible at relationships. Generalization convinces us one incident is proof that this is what will happen every time.

To counteract this distortion:

Remember this. Just because your ex shattered your heart doesn’t mean your current partner will do the same. Just because something terrible happened in your last relationship doesn’t mean that will happen every time.

2. Jumping to conclusions

After three weeks of working abroad, my friend’s boyfriend came home in a terrible mood. Instead of asking him about his feelings, my friend jumped to a conclusion,

He doesn’t want to be with me anymore.

When we jump to conclusions, we’re determining another person’s thoughts or feelings. We’re forgetting no one can read another person’s mind.

To counteract this distortion:

My friend needs to do a simple thing. Open her mouth and ask her partner what has caused his dark mood. When you want to know what your partner thinks and feels, ask. You’re not an uncanny mind reader. No one is.

3. Catastrophizing

One week before one of my coworkers was supposed to be married, his ex-fiancé ditched him. That happened over two years ago. Now, he is in a relationship with a kind and gorgeous woman. But, every day, he imagines the worst-case scenario. Our love will not last. She will break up with me. She will stop loving me.

His brain convinces him the only possible scenario is the worst-case scenario and that it will happen to him.

Imagining the worst-case scenario — catastrophizing — is something I would rather never nurture. Why would I want to get proficient at worrying the worst thing would happen to my relationship? Imagining the worst-case scenario keeps you in a perpetual state of high alert. That’s no way to build a relationship. Deciding something will go wrong before it does never helps love grow in your relationship.

To counteract this distortion:

Exercise this thought: the best-case scenario is equally plausible. Think about how to bring the joy of a thousand perfectly possible outcomes.

4. Filtering

Last week, my boyfriend forgot to buy the lemons I asked for from the supermarket. After taking out all the food he brought, my brain convinced me he forgot my lemons deliberately.

Filtering made me forget someone I love is considerate and loving.

Filtering happens any time one detail filters out everything else.

To counteract this distortion:

If you have a habit of picking one detail out of everything, try writing a list of everything you appreciate about your partner. It could be the way he has been there for you when you needed him. This exercise will help train your brain to focus on other details you’re not seeing.

5. Personalization

You call your partner and leave yet another voice mail. He does not pick up. You wonder why he hasn’t called you back. Clearly, your relationship is not as important to him as it is to you. This fills you with sadness.

Suddenly you remember: he had gone on a camping trip and has no cell phone access.

That’s a true story when I suffered needlessly for a week. When you take things personally, your emotions are all wrapped up in what happened. Your brain convinces you whatever happened happened because of you.

To counteract this distortion:

Step back and ask yourself, “did I do anything wrong to my partner?” “Is this about me or is this about him?” Asking yourself these questions can help you separate yourself enough to gain perspective over the situation.

6. Fallacy of fairness

Since January 2021, my mother-in-law is staying in my home. My partner and I take turns in taking care of her. I don’t say, “I watched your mother all day on Saturday and Sunday, now you can watch her all day on Monday and Tuesday.”

If I say that, it will eventually cause resentment.

Believing everything in your relationship must be fair at all times is unrealistic.

To counteract this distortion:

When you feel things are unfair, practice clear communication. Do not present what you communicate as a demand. Do not suggest a quid pro quo (Do this for me and I will do something else for you). Present what you communicate as an independent, stand-alone request.

7. Shoulds

A colleague suffers in silence when her boyfriend does not celebrate her birthday. When it’s his birthday, she makes his day with gifts and a special dinner. But when it’s her birthday, he does nothing.

“What am I missing?” she wonders.

We all have expectations — that someone we love will do something specific for us. When we think of things they should do for us and it’s not done, we are left with disappointment.

To counteract this distortion:

Don’t “should” on your partner. Express your expectations. That way, your partner gets the opportunity to decide if the expectation can be met most of the time, some of the time, or none of the time.

8. Fallacy of change

My boyfriend loves watching football games on weekends. I don’t. I enjoy spending time in my home-office where I write or prepare lectures for my students. He doesn’t change the way I spend Saturdays. And I don’t say, “I love him, so he should think and feel like I do, or he should spend Saturdays the way I like.”

This creates the freedom to be who we are in our relationship.

Believing another person has to change for us is a huge expenditure of energy. When someone you love does something that makes you uncomfortable or unhappy, your default is to wonder how to change him, and then you wonder why he won’t change. One lesson I had to learn repeatedly is we cannot change someone — even if we love them the most.

To counteract this distortion:

Understand that love is about letting someone we love be who they are — not put them in a box and hope they think, feel, and act like us.

9. Always being right

My ex clung to being right all the time that he couldn’t see anything else, making me invariably wrong. I felt small, insignificant, and powerless. My voice didn’t matter in the relationship.

No one wants to be with a person who makes them feel wrong, day in and day out.

To counteract this distortion:

To put love above winning, to create a space for the possibility that your point might be wrong, and to restore warm feelings, drop the notion that you have to be right all the time.


You may fall into one or more of the above traps or know someone who does. One of the most valuable assets we can bring to a romantic relationship is to pay attention to these cognitive distortions. If we question our thoughts and what we believe, we can work on counteracting these cognitive distortions.

A passionate Writer. An irreverent personal development trainer. Blogger at I am on a mission to write sparkling blog posts.

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