Is your spouse a negative person? Does he or she consistently zero in on what’s wrong with you and the marriage while overlooking the many positives?
If so, it’s also quite possible that your spouse is just a negatively-oriented person about most things–work, the marriage, other people, the future, and life in general. Perhaps as time goes by, your spouse is becoming even more negative, critical, and complaining.
When I first talked to “Leigh” (not her real name), she was ready to leave her marriage because of her husband’s constant negativity. “Al” was a master at finding fault with Leigh’s decisions and suggestions. He had a sharp wit and could deliver zingers without batting an eye.
If Leigh suggested a picnic, Al responded with complaints about the perils of fire ants, killer bees, and sudden thunderstorms. Whenever she made a suggestion, Al would discourse on what was wrong with the idea and why it wouldn’t work.
If he did agree to go along with one of Leigh’s ideas or suggestions, he always expected the worse or talked about the negative aspects. In addition, Al was very critical.
The restaurant they tried was “too expensive,” the dinner conversation with friends was “too boring,” the movie was “too long,” the weekend camping trip was “too much work,” a gift from a family member was “stingy,” and the people at the church they visited were “hypocrites.” His boss is “an idiot,” his job “sucks,” and his life is “the pits.”
Since a negative attitude is highly contagious, it was challenging for Leigh to be around Al and not lose her normally positive orientation. She often felt drained and deflated in spirit after her interactions with Al. When she realized that he was becoming more negative the older he got and that she was starting to resent his attitude, she consulted with me.
Eight Steps to Overcome Negativity
If you’re in the same situation–married to a spouse with a negative attitude–I would give you the same recommendations that I gave Leigh. Here’s what you can do:
1. Deliberately cultivate friendships with other individuals and couples who have positive attitudes and who are fun to be around. Try to expand you and your spouse’s circle of friends to include couples who would be good role models for your mate and spend time with those couples.
Cut back on spending time with friends who encourage your spouse’s negative comments and attitude and slowly over time try to add individuals and couples who are strong positive influences.
2. Be sure that you have friends, activities, hobbies, and interests in your life that “feed your soul” and help you stay on a positive track. If things in your marriage aren’t what you wish they were, then you need to find satisfaction and joy in other areas to keep you centered and balanced emotionally.
Listen to inspiring songs and read inspirational books. “Feed” yourself a diet of positive messages that encourage and motivate you.
3. Monitor your moods to be sure that you’re not getting tangled up in what are commonly called “co-dependency” issues. That’s when you let your mood be determined and set by someone else.
An example would be if you were depressed all day because your spouse was in a bad mood at breakfast. Just because he’s in a funk doesn’t mean that you can’t have an enjoyable day. You don’t have to let your mate’s mood determine your mood or spoil your day.
Don’t give away your personal power. Take responsibility for creating your own happiness instead of being so influenced by your spouse’s negative attitude.
4. Keep a gratitude journal where you list what you’re thankful for each day. Form the habit of sharing with your spouse things that you’re thankful for. At dinner, for example, you might talk about how helpful the clerk at the grocery store was or tell about the favor a co-worker did for you that you appreciate.
If you’re thankful for seeing a beautiful bird or a lovely flowering tree, share your feelings. If you feel blessed by the kindness of a friend, share that. Even if what you say doesn’t impact your mate, you need to hear yourself expressing gratitude and appreciation for the gifts that you’ve been given. This helps you to keep focused on what’s right with your life instead of what’s wrong with it.
5. Try not to judge your spouse or make him or her “wrong” for being so negative. There are many factors that can influence a person’s attitudes: the attitudes they learned from their parents, their experiences growing up, low self-esteem, intense stress, clinical depression, a habit of negative self-talk, life disappointments and discouragement, and lack of hope.
Sometimes individuals who are negative think they are being “realistic” or helpful by “calling a spade a spade.” Others may think they are witty for delivering clever “zingers” and criticisms.
6. Schedule a time to talk to your partner about your concerns. Without sounding judgmental or “preachy,” give some specific examples of how her (or his) negativity has impacted you significantly. Perhaps your spouse is not even aware of just how negative she has become, or perhaps she is feeling depressed and needs to talk to her doctor or a counselor.
If your spouse reacts in anger, stay calm and non-defensive. State that you’d rather share your feelings now than have them fester underground and cause even more problems later.
7. If nothing changes after your talk with your spouse, write him (or her) a letter outlining your feelings and concerns about your reactions to his negative attitude. State that you want to look forward to your interactions and time with him, but you’re afraid the constant negativity will eventually affect your feelings.
In the letter, tell your spouse how much you value him and your marriage and that you love him deeply. Ask your mate to go to marriage counseling with you so that your marriage will stay strong and satisfying for both of you.
8. If your spouse is not willing to address the problem by talking with you or going to counseling, then make an appointment to see a counselor by yourself. You’ll need support and help in determining just what the next step needs to be–trying again to communicate verbally or in writing, or trying to adjust and live with things as they are, or in an extreme case, considering a temporary marital separation.
You’ll need a deep commitment to staying positive and upbeat to be able to withstand the strong negativity in your marriage relationship. The encouraging news, however, is that according to Robert H. Schuller, “It takes but one positive thought when given a chance to survive and thrive to overpower an entire army of negative thoughts.”