A negative perspective on marriage is a typical stereotype, as evidenced by one-liners such as "Married men live longer than single men, but married men are lot more willing to die." Such attitudes are anything but amusing, however; research published in 2005 in "American Psychologist" shows that positive interactions must outweigh negative interactions by three to one for a marriage to flourish. There are certain steps you can take to make your relationship more positive.
Take Responsibility for Your Own Feelings
Once you take responsibility for your feelings, the number of negative interactions in your marriage will likely diminish. For example, if your spouse tells you that the two of you will never be able to get out of debt and that makes you sad, deal with that feeling without taking action against your partner. This type of humility is essential for dealing with negativity, according to behavioral psychologist Raj Raghunathan in "Psychology Today." If you lash out -- for example, responding that the family would never have gotten into debt had your husband not bought that new boat last year -- you are setting the stage for even more negativity.
Use Repair Attempts
It's tempting to think that the marriages that work out are the ones in which couples discuss volatile issues calmly and respectfully. This is not the case, however. According to researcher John Gottman, author of "The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work," the important thing is how couples view repair attempts by a spouse once a conflict is underway. For example, during an argument about your spouse's late working hours, if you playfully stick out your tongue and laugh, the conflict has a chance of coming to an end and the cycle of negativity can be broken. If you catch yourself responding negatively to your partner's repair attempts, recognize them for what they are and change your response to a positive one. The overall effect will be to strengthen your marriage.
Recognize that negativity arises from fear, advises Raghunathan. Negative emotions often arise from a fear of being disrespected or unloved or that something uncontrollably bad may happen. When you can see that your spouse is struggling with fear, it is easier to have compassion and not react in an angry manner to her negativity. Intentionally counteract negativity with loving actions. If your wife tells you she feels fat, rather than reminding her about her diet, give her a kiss and tell her you love her and that you won't be brought into a conversation where she denigrates the woman you love the most -- her.
Although you might wish you could wave a magic wand and get rid of the negativity that seems to surround your spouse, it's important to focus improvement efforts on yourself. Raghunathan points out that people who have difficulty dealing with negativity from other people often carry the seeds of negativity themselves. It doesn't matter who is "the most negative" in the marriage. What does matter it that each person works on his or her own behavior. For example, if you make negative remarks about your husband arriving home late from work, recognize that your feelings may stem from a fear of infidelity or of not feeling valued. You can then dismiss the fears as unrealistic or discuss them with your husband.
- "The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work"; John Gottman; 2000
- American Psychologist: Positive Affect and the Complex Dynamics of Human Flourishing
- Psychology Today: Dealing With Negative People
- Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images