Black and White Thinking in Relationships

Written by: Vasundhara Shukla – M.Phil (Psychology)

Last updated date : September 17, 2022

Table of Contents Article title – Perfectionism
  1. Chapter 1
  2. Chapter 2
  3. Chapter 3
  4. Chapter 4
  5. Chapter 5
  6. Chapter 6
  7. Chapter 7
  8. Chapter 8

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Black and white thinking means seeing things or people as good or bad. We all see people as entirely good or bad sometimes. But this does harm our thinking. Children have this kind of thinking. They see their parents as very good or very bad and accordingly have hateful or loving feelings for them. As we grow up we understand that people are not wholly good or bad rather all of them have both kinds of traits. In this article, we are going to talk about the impact of Black and white or all-or-nothing thinking in relationships.

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Chapter 1:
Why is Black and White Thinking Bad?

Losing Out on Important Information

When we think in black and white, we leave out important information which can improve our understanding of the person, thing, or situation. When we think in extremes, we only focus on things that fit in either good or bad. Things are not categorized this way in the real world. It is an oversimplified way of looking at things.

Perfectionism

Perfectionists are more likely to think in such a way. This is because they see things as good or bad, success or failure, etc. This makes them chase an unrealistic goal or look at things in a very incorrect way.

Mental Health Problems

Seeing things or people this way also harms our mental health. Our thinking also impacts our behavior. For example, after a rough day, we might think our life is terrible. By doing so we ignore good things that might have happened to us and will make us feel very stressed and upset.

Impact on Relationships

When we have black and white thinking, we run the risk of ruining our relationships. Our relationships can go sour if we decide whether the person is good or bad based on a few instances. This is because we make an impression about the person and tend not to change it as we get newer information.

Self Worth

We not only think about others in such a way but ourselves as well. For example, thinking of a bad work report or a bad test grade and telling yourself that you are good for nothing. This has a very negative impact on self-esteem and self-worth. People with low self-esteem are more likely to negative things about themselves.

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Chapter 2:
All-Or-Nothing Thinking in Relationships

All-or-nothing thinking is very common in relationships as well. Consider the following examples-

‘You never have time to talk to me.’

‘You always try to take on fewer responsibilities.’

If your partner is angry with you, you immediately believe he or she doesn’t love me anymore.

‘My father coached my sister to play football because I am the worst at sports. I am good for nothing.’

Nothing is ever right in this relationship.’

You might notice that in the above sentences the relationship is defined by a single thing and a conclusion is drawn. Another important issue here is that there are generalizations about the relationship. Using words like ‘always’ and ‘never’ should be avoided when speaking to your loved one as it also generalizes.

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Chapter 3:
Causes of Black and White Thinking in Relationships

Very High Expectations

One of the main causes of having this type of thinking is having unrealistic expectations. When the bar is set very high, it gets difficult for both partners to achieve it. It is like setting the relationship up for failure. The smallest thing can make you feel that the relationship is not going as you wanted it to be. This can be because of the need to have control over the relationship. The people who like to strive for perfection find comfort in having a sense of control over most things in their lives. And these people tend to see the relationship as unfulfilling and remain unhappy.

There is No Mid Way

A person who tends to have black and white thinking in relationships goes by the principle of getting 100% or nothing. But you can not understand relationships in percentages. So, people who use this type of thinking have very high standards. Most people are unable to meet their standards which makes them feel bad about the relationship. They either try to end the relationship or complain most of the time. This reduces relationship satisfaction for both partners.

Focus on Faults

All-or-nothing thinking in relationships is also seen as one partner being very focused on what the other did not do or did incorrectly. People who think in extremes pay attention to what is missing or what is wrong in the relationship. This turns into nagging and complaining which puts pressure on the other partner. This might be one of the reasons that people with black and white thinking have problems maintaining long-term relationships.

In conclusion, black and white thinking in relationships is linked to dissatisfaction and unhappiness. It is important to understand like life, relationships thrive in the grey areas. There are only a few instances when we can say a situation, thing, or person is entirely good or bad. The characteristic of perfectionism plays an important role in developing this type of thinking. Please see our course on ‘Perfectionism’ to know more about its effects on our life.

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Learn evidence-based scientific ways to overcoming perfectionism.

87 Lessons

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  • Self-reflection material
  • Suggestions & feedback
  • Worksheet, tips & tools to use

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