All of us have witnessed the effects of anger – one harsh word can wipe out a lifetime of loving moments. Here’s how you and your partner can end relationship negativity.
An accurate measurement of how you’re doing as a couple is how much negativity is present in your relationship. So, “how much” negativity occurs in the happiest of relationships? John Gottman’s research found that the most successful relationships have a ratio of positive to negative of least 6 to 1. As we learn about cherishing each other, we simultaneously move to end all negativity in the relationship. In fact, zero negativity is a precondition for safety in the relationship.
What is negativity?
We can define negativity as any thought, word or deed that tells our partner, “You’re not okay when you think or act the way that you act.” It is usually a discrepancy between what your partner is, and who you wish they were or should be.
Negativity is anything you say to your partner that feels like a putdown, from mild to severe. It can come through our words in phrases such as, “I can’t believe you just said that!” “Really?!” or “Are you kidding me?”
It can come from our tone of voice when we use a condescending attitude or harsh tones. Or, it can come through our actions – such as withdrawing from our partner.
A good rule of thumb is that if your partner says it’s negative, then it’s negative. They most likely experienced what you just said as a put down.
Negativity is decided from your partner’s perspective
Yes, your partner decides if you’re being negative or not. You might say you’re only joking, but if it doesn’t feel good to your partner, then you need to cut it out!
Since negativity is defined by each individual’s perception, if one of you perceives that something the other partner said was negative – even if the other partner didn’t mean it that way – it’s negative. Arguing with your partner that you did not intend for your comment to come off that way will not help.
Negativity is toxic to relationships
Negativity makes your partner feel unsafe – and without safety in your relationship, your relationship will never grow.
The only thing negativity accomplishes is making you and your partner both feel attacked by each other. When we feel attacked, we respond by putting up defenses and counterattacks. As Harville Hendrix says, “When you begin to realize how destructive that pattern is, you become negativity watchdogs. Negativity is invisible abuse. “
Usually, negative comments or responses come in the form of criticism, defensiveness, contempt, stonewalling, shame or blame. These responses are like toxins to your relationship. They act as acid corroding your connection with your partner.
Awareness leads to zero negativity
Negativity is natural; when our reptilian brain picks up on negative cues, it assumes we are going to be attacked – and thus, we go into a protected, defensive mode. Fortunately, as humans we have evolved our cerebral cortex, which gives us the ability to move to higher-level reasoning and awareness.
One way to raise your negativity awareness is to keep in mind that it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. As I mentioned earlier, the words you use and your tone of voice can make all the difference.
All the couples I see come in with negative things they want to talk about. While I’m not suggesting you passively accept your partner’s negativity or stuff your feelings, it is important to recognize that negativity is often a “wish” in disguise. If you use safe conversation skills (intentional dialogue), there is a much greater chance the discussion will motivate your partner to do something about it.
Additionally, when you are feeling negative towards your partner, look at your own contribution and ask yourself some questions:
- What am I resisting?
- What am I feeling right now? (Attacked, frustrated, irritated, angry, defensive)
- Do I really want this negative energy inside me? (If not, am I willing to just drop it? If not, why not?)
- Is it important for me to be right/win the argument?
- Is my resistance somehow going to resolve this problem?
- What am I doing or not doing right now that is fueling my negative attitude?
Be sure to engage in a conversation about what you said that hurt your partner.
Focus on the positive
Finally, it’s important to not just eliminate negativity, but focus on the positive. One very helpful way to do this is by giving formal appreciations.
Raising your awareness about eliminating negativity from your relationship will help transform the relationship. For more information on how to eliminate negativity from your relationship, call me and we’ll set a time for you to come in for one free consultation.