Q: A lot of things my husband does drive me crazy and it is affecting our marriage. How can I stop being so negative towards him?
A: Each of us engage in a type of “self-talk”, whether we are aware of it or not. We hold a running dialogue with ourselves as we go about our day, recalling the past, analyzing the present, and thinking about the future. Our self-talk might generate positive feelings about ourselves and others, such as joy and love, or it might produce negative feelings, such as anger, worry, or stress.
In Rabbi Zelig Pliskin’s book, Conversations with Yourself, he explains that you become what you think about. Therefore, if you constantly tell yourself that you are stressed, anxious, and worried, then you will create an environment that fosters that stress and anxiety. On the other hand, if you constantly tell yourself that you are relaxed and peaceful, then you are more likely to create a peaceful atmosphere.
I would like to take Rabbi Pliskin’s idea one step further and apply this to marriage. The tone of your marriage is based on what you think about and focus on as well. If you tell yourself that your spouse is a selfish, lazy, and mean person, then you will create a home filled with anger, frustration, and/or hate. If you use negative self-talk when you see your spouse did not take out the garbage or pick something up from the store, you might attribute these events to laziness or forgetfulness. You might tell yourself that he doesn’t help with the household chores because he is thoughtless and insensitive. Maybe you feel he does not say “I love you” because he is uncaring or unable to express love. These negative thoughts and feelings can be very harmful and destructive in a relationship.*
After forty years of research, Dr. John Gottman, a well-known marriage expert, identified that negativity is one of the main components in unhealthy marriages. If you focus only on the negative, you will hone in on all the times your spouse does something to fit in with the label you have given him and not pay attention to the times he does not act in this fashion. This creates a constantly hostile environment.
Sometimes, there are real issues that need addressed. However, many times how those issues are presented are the key to whether they will be resolved in a healthy manner. The way you frame your perception of your marriage is how you can keep the negativity out of it. It is up to you how to view your relationship with your spouse. More positive self-talk will lead to a more joyous, pleasurable, and loving marriage.
The first step to altering negative thought patterns is recognition. Recognizing when you have negative thoughts can help you realize how these thoughts are impacting your life and marriage. I encourage you to start listening to the messages you tell yourself about the people and situations around you, and then you can move onto the next step of letting these negative patterns go. Change takes a lot of work, but it all starts with paying attention to what you tell yourself.
*This article is not meant for couples in abusive relationships.