Blog Short #103: How to Handle Negative Thoughts About Your Partner
What can you do when you’re inundated with negative thoughts about your partner or someone you’re close to?
You might feel you have reasons for those thoughts, and you may, but our human tendency is to veer toward our natural negativity bias. You pick out those things that bother you and give them more focus. When you do that, you forget about the things you like. And the more you do that, the more it takes a toll on your relationship.
There’s a way to counteract that tendency, which is the subject of today’s blog.
Let’s start with some background that will give you a big-picture view of how intimate relationships evolve.
Highs and Lows
If you think about your development and growth over your life, you recognize that you experience highs and lows, progress and setbacks, and times of regrouping and starting again. That’s the nature of growth. It can be no other way.
Relationships also go through a similar path of development. They start in infancy and move through old age. And some die an early death while others last throughout a lifetime. Generally, that’s up to the people involved, just as our growth individually is something we take on and own.
So, if you understand and expect that there will be highs and lows, you’re already ahead of the game because you’re realistic and know that relationships require work. You get many benefits from that work but still have to do it.
It’s very easy to become negative – and sometimes really negative – about your partner during the lows.
You can find yourself ruminating about all the things that are wrong and all those quirks that drive you nuts. You might daydream about the perfect partner or imagine yourself single again. It’s easy to get immersed in “grass is greener” thinking during these times.
Sometimes there’s too much wrong, and the relationship is in trouble, but often it’s part of a developmental phase in the relationship. It’s important to put your negative thoughts in perspective during these periods to keep your equilibrium.
Here’s what you can do.
Use these prompts to get your thoughts about your partner back to a more realistic appraisal.
Go back in time and remember when you first met each other and how you felt, what you liked, and what drew you to this person. Sit with these memories and savor them.
- What attracted you to each other?
- What things did you have in common?
- How did you feel?
- What experiences did you have together that made you want to continue?
Focus in on what you like.
Make a list of everything you’ve ever liked about this person. As you do this, be careful not to turn it into a “yes, but” exercise. “Yes, I really like how hard he works, but he pays no attention to me.” Leave off the “he pays no attention to me.” Make this a list of likes only. If you stretch your mind and allow yourself to be open to what you’ve liked and still like now, you’ll gather a pretty good list.
I would do this in a single day and not allow any other negative thoughts to intrude.
On the next day, write down the things you don’t like and see if you can look at them differently.
“Is this something I don’t like but maybe benefit from a little?”
An example might be:
You have a partner who doesn’t help with cooking or cleaning up after dinner, but he’s great with the kids and keeps them entertained while you’re busy, and tucks them in later so you can relax.
Is there another side you should consider? There are often hidden benefits that offset those things that bother you. Not always, but when you can see them, it helps to keep things in perspective.
Imagine how you would feel if your partner was suddenly gone.
Imagine all the situations you might experience. What would you miss, and how would that affect you? Allow yourself to sink into this thought and go through your feelings.
Sometimes the day-to-day experiences narrow your perspective and keep you focused on the same issues so that you get far removed from the bigger picture. That, too, is a human tendency. We tend to fold in and get tunnel vision, especially with things we find problematic or don’t like.
This exercise’s value is stretching your vision back out, which is a good practice in general. You do need to attend to problems and details, but you do that best when you see these within a more panoramic view. Try to keep that panoramic view of your relationship.
Review the strengths.
The last thing to do is to list the strengths of your relationship. What have you accomplished thus far together?
This list can include things like:
- Having children and raising them
- Creating a financial base through one or both of your jobs
- Buying a home
- Learning how to communicate with each other effectively
- Knowing and understanding what’s most important to each of you
- Setting up routines that facilitate daily living
- Spending time together
- Engaging in activities you both like
- Having good conversations
- Resolving conflicts successfully
I’m sure there are many more you might add to this list. List everything you can think of, even those small things you might not usually notice.
Don’t allow yourself to list the weaknesses yet. Just stick with the strengths.
If you’ve completed the exercises, you’ve reminded yourself of your partner’s positive qualities and become aware of your strengths as a couple. You’ve got a fresh view that will help to work on problem areas. You can see that your relationship has enough going for it that you can continue building on what you’ve achieved and the feelings you have for each other.
All relationships have problems, and you do need to address them. It’s never good to ignore issues that can create distance over time or, at worst, destroy the relationship.
You have deal-breakers, and it’s good to define those for yourself and your partner so you both know the limits and agree to them.
Expectations are different. Depending on your growth as a couple, you can adjust them as you go along. The better you know someone and the greater your understanding of each other’s needs, your expectations will change.
Balancing the positives and negatives, especially seeing the good in you and your partner, helps you work more as a team rather than be at odds with each other.
There must be more good feelings than negative ones for a relationship to succeed and evolve.
During those lows, remind yourself of what you’re working toward, the value you both bring to the relationship, and what you have together.
For significant issues you can’t solve, seek some help. A third party can benefit you when you hit a brick wall. Sometimes the relationship is unhealthy, and in spite of looking at the positives, the negatives can’t be overcome.
There are also programs you can go through that help heal relationships. For that, I would guide you toward The Gottman Institute. Founded by Drs. John and Julie Gottman, their work in marriage and intimate relations is untouchable! They have books, programs you can go through, and therapist recommendations. Check them out!
That’s all for today.
Hope you have a great week!
All my best,