On the whole, cognitive dissonance can be defined as the feeling of discomfort which arises when a persons opinions, attitudes and actions are inconsistent with each other (Festinger, 2003). It is normally accompanied by guilt, shame, anxiety or even fear. Every individual strives to reconcile this inner conflict that can lead to many psychological disorders. Yet, practically everyone has experienced this controversy inside oneself. One of the most widespread situations is infidelity to the spouse. In this case, the term infidelity can imply cheating, bridge of trust or any other form of dishonesty towards husband or wife. Normally, this entails violation of ones beliefs, ethical principles, moral standards and so forth. Very often the remorse of conscience is the most typical attributes of this conduct. It should be borne in mind that cognitive dissonance is possible only under the condition that a partner holds cheating contrary to ones moral tenets because some people do not regard it as something abhorrent or alien to their nature (Peluso 2007). Yet, psychologists argue that even a man or woman of principle seeks a motivational drive that can justify their behavior (Myers, 2008). This motivational drive can be understood as mere excuse.
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There is a vast variety of such excuses especially if we are speaking about conjugal infidelity. One of the most common methods is to find a noble pretext, for example, when a husband lies to a wife because he does not want to distress or upset her. Yet, frequently due to these “noble causes” lie can grow into a habit and situation will only aggravate with time passing. Another form of self-vindication is to shift the blame on the spouse. Usually the adulterer attempts to convince oneself that it is the partner who has forced him to lie, cheat, enter into sexual intercourse etc (Peluso, 2007). This approach results either in constant quarrels in the family or divorce. Additionally, some people try to prove that their unfaithfulness or dishonesty was caused by overwhelming circumstances, which were entirely beyond their control. This is one of the most suitable excuses because in this way they can look at themselves as the victims of external forces. The outcome of this self-deception is that infidelity or cheating becomes ethically permissible for them.
Moreover, society can also offer a very plausible excuse for cheating on a spouse. It occurs when disloyalty to a husband or wife is socially acceptable. Of course, every culture condemns such attitude, almost in every country it is considered immoral and outrageous. Cheating is incompatible with every world religion. But this is only official side of the question. There is some kind of tacit agreement, according to which, conjugal disloyalty is viewed as an inseparable part of human existence. This statement applies not only for cheating but for other degrading practices (Cooper, 2007). If the community grants this absolution to a dishonest partner, this behavior will no longer give rise to any cognitive dissonance. In the long term the inner world of such individual will be at peace.
Overall, cognitive dissonance related to adultery emerges only when an person is afraid of probable reproach of others. Naturally, there are some preventive factors such as remorse, anxiety, guilt, but they are closely associated with the norms accepted in a group or culture. Moreover, as it has been previously mentioned people devise very ingenious ways of deluding themselves just to overcome this state of cognitive dissonance. In this case, confession is arguably the best solution to the problem, but only very few dare take this decision.
Cooper. J (2007). Cognitive dissonance: fifty years of a classic theory. SAGE.
Festinger. L (2003). A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance. New York Textbook Publishers.
Myers, D. (2008). Social Psychology. New York: McGraw Hill.
Peluso. P (2007). “Infidelity: a practitioner’s guide to working with couples in crisis” New York. CRC Press.