There are times when it's helpful to use compare and contrast thinking. For example, fifth-grade Social Studies. Remember when Mrs. Dogoody assigned the paper: "Compare and Contrast Ancient Roman and Ancient Greek Civilizations"? (I do; I still have the occasional nightmare about that one.) The logic behind this type of assignment is that we learn about one topic by discovering the similarities and differences between it and another topic (thereby learning about both). Sounds good on paper, right? It may work in school, but you need to drop this way of thinking when you enter a relationship and want to learn about your partner.

The problem with comparing people:

People are always comparing themselves to others. It becomes a habit and is often so automatic that you might not even be aware you're doing it. However, just because it's common, doesn't mean it's good for us. Sages through the years have been warning us that all unhappiness stems from comparing ourselves to others.

Comparing and contrasting yourself to others creates the illusion that you are either inferior or superior. Often the goal of this type of thinking is self-enhancement, where you begin to define and feed your sense of self in relationship to other people. This is a house of cards that will result in your energies being senselessly drained, since you will need to continuously feed your ego with meaningless comparisons. Depression, envy, jealousy, hostility, and chronic feelings of dissatisfaction often result from compare and contrast thinking.

Criticalness: Comparison thinking in disguise

One prominent and overt form of comparison thinking is criticalness. Whenever you criticize another, you are implying that the other person is wrong and that you would never behave that way (therefore you are morally superior and a better person for not behaving in that way). Often the motivation of criticism is an attempt to elevate yourself above another person.

Unfortunately, criticalness often becomes a stubborn part of many marriages and romantic relationships. Marriage researcher John Gottman found that criticalness is one of the important factors that results in marital dissatisfaction.

When one partner becomes critical of another, the person who feels under attack creates a protective shield around him/herself to numb the sting of the critical remarks. This pattern of offense/defense can develop into a chronic cycle of criticism and defensiveness, leading to the erosion of intimacy.

There is a significant difference between disagreeing with your partner and being critical. When you disagree, you are saying that you see things differently from your partner and that you have different viewpoints about something. When you criticize, you attack your partner and take the comparative stance of being better than him/her.

To become aware of the role of compare and contrast thinking in your life and in your relationship, take the following challenge:

I invite you to monitor your thinking for one week. Simply be mindful of the thoughts you are having, especially while interacting with others. To help you stay on task, you can keep a journal of all your thoughts. During this exercise be aware of all comparisons (comparisons are sometimes subtle) that come to mind. I think you'll be surprised by the prevalence of compare and contrast thinking in your daily life.

Becoming truly aware of your mental patterns is the first step in changing your thinking. When you recognize compare and contrast thinking at work in your own mind, talk yourself out of that destructive approach by reminding yourself that it's not your job to judge others or evaluate yourself alongside them—your job is to discover your own inherent self-worth, which will open you up to peaceful and meaningful relationships with others.

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Author's Bio: 

Richard Nicastro, Ph.D. is a psychologist and relationship coach who is passionate about helping couples protect the sanctuary of their relationship. Rich and his wife Lucia founded LifeTalk Coaching, an internet-based coaching business that helps couples strengthen their relationships.

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