What Might Have Been: The Social Psychology of Counterfactual Thinking

By Neal J. Roese; James M. Olson | Go to book overview
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8
Through a Glass Darkly: Worldviews, Counterfactual Thought, and Emotion

Janet Landman University of Michigan

From February to July, 1990, I spoke on the phone several times a week with a close relative I will call Dylan. It was a time of enormous upheaval in Dylan's life. His wife was divorcing him, and she was doing it with more than the usual venom--including making serious threats to prevent him from ever again seeing his two young children, who were the lights of his life. Nearly every time we spoke, he wept. He was inconsolable, and he was medicating the condition with anti-depressants and alcohol.

I tried to help. I listened, I suggested that he talk to a therapist (which he did not do), and I tried to help him to see his situation in a different light. Looking back on it, I think that more than anything else I was trying to make a chink in his romantic and tragic stance toward life in general and his regret in particular.

To me he seemed to be under the sway of an overly romantic view of marriage, and a dangerously tragic view of divorce. According to his way of looking at marriage, there is one and only one person in the world one was meant to marry. If that marriage ends, the event is not just a mistake, it is a catastrophe. Dylan believed that in his wife he had found that one person he was meant to marry. He mourned for the loss of his children and the only woman he had ever loved. Now that the marriage was over, his life was over.

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