Most people would agree that negativity in marriage is harmful. It can lead to hurt feelings, emotional distance, and even the breakup of the relationship. Learning how to stop being negative all the time can improve the health of your marriage, and it may even save it.
What is a negative relationship?
A negative relationship or negativity in marriage can be described as a tendency to criticize, whine, and attack your partner. Constant negativity in a relationship may also involve general discontentment, pessimism, and a need for perfection from your partner.
Another answer to what is a negative relationship is that it is a tendency to always nag your partner and bring negative energy into the relationship, instead of allowing positivity to flow into the marriage.
Is negativity hurting your marriage?
If you are dealing with negativity in marriage, there are chances that the negativity is hurting the marriage.
Relationship experts have warned that for every negative interaction in a relationship, you need five positives in order to counteract it. If most of your interactions are negative with little positivity, this is understandably damaging.
Relationship expert and researcher John Gottman has even concluded that when partners are usually negative toward each other, even a positive interaction between the two of them isn’t perceived as pleasant, because negativity in marriage can begin to override positive interactions.
What this means is that over time, with repeated negativity, partners begin to interpret the entire marriage as negative. This is disastrous for the health of the marriage.
Research supports just how important it is to keep negative energy away from a marriage. In fact, a 2017 study in Developmental Psychology found that the tension that results from negativity in marriage can lead to divorce, especially among wives who perceive a high level of tension in the marriage.
When there is tension from constant negativity in a relationship, it can certainly hurt a marriage.
Unfortunately, some people may be naturally negative. Perhaps they witnessed this behavior growing up and learned to be negative themselves. In other cases, negativity can become a habit. Here are some signs that you might be naturally negative:
You tend to be perfectionistic, and if something is not perfect, you criticize it.
You are critical of others and tend to view events from a negative vantage point.
When your partner or children ask you for something, your default response is usually no rather than yes.
Most of the time, you are in a bad mood.
You spend a lot of time dwelling on bad events or painful memories, rather than moving forward and focusing on the positive.
If some or all of these statements describe you, it is likely that you tend to be innately negative.
This could be harmful to your relationship. On the other hand, perhaps your spouse or significant other shows some of these signs. Either way, these behaviors are linked to negativity in marriage and can be rather damaging.
Convert negative thinking to positive thinking
If you find that you are naturally negative, you are probably wondering how to stop being negative in a relationship. You can achieve this and be more positive in a relationship by reframing your thoughts.
Try some of the following to stop being negative all the time:
Take time each day to make a list, whether mentally or on paper, of at least three things you are grateful for that day.
Engage in activities that make you happy
Spend time together by finding a common interest or hobby. This will build trust and add to the list to quality time between you two.
Try to correct negative self-talk
Sometimes, when people are highly critical of themselves, they become critical and negative toward others.
Practice opening your mind to new thoughts or perspectives
Be patient and be open to new ideas or suggestions your partner suggests regarding any matter.
Use words of affirmation with your spouse
When he or she does something helpful or achieves something meaningful at work, be sure to express appreciation or offer praise.
Spend time with positive people
When you are around others who tend to be positive, you can learn to be more positive yourself.
Make forgiveness a habit
Instead of being quick to complain or criticize when your partner makes a mistake, make an effort to be forgiving and recognize that no one is perfect.
Practice healthy habits
When you engage in regular exercise, follow a healthy diet, and get plenty of sleep, you may find that you are more equipped to avoid negativity.
Seek professional intervention
If you find that you cannot change your attitude in a relationship despite making efforts to be less negative, it may be time to seek professional help from a counselor or therapist to learn strategies for overcoming negativity.
Maybe you are dealing with some unresolved psychological issues or are not coping well with stressors, and a licensed mental health professional can help you to uncover and find healthier ways of managing these issues.
You may even find that your own insecurities are leading you to be critical and negative toward your spouse, and a therapist can help you to see yourself more positively, which in turn will benefit your marriage.
How do you stay positive in a negative relationship?
If you are struggling because your wife is always angry and negative, or you cannot help but think, “my husband is always negative,” there are things you can do to stay positive and keep negative energy away from you. Consider the following strategies:
Surround yourself with positive people, so you are not brought down by negativity in marriage.
Try to remain calm and avoid overreacting when your partner is negative or critical.
Do not view your partner’s negativity as a personal attack; remember that someone who is constantly negative may be doing so out of habit, learned behavior, or because they are dealing with their own insecurities or psychological issues.
Reach out to your spouse and invite them to do a fun activity or engage in something enjoyable, such as a walk together after dinner, once per week to try to build a positive connection.
When your partner accomplishes something, be sure to acknowledge it. By modeling positivity in this way, you may also encourage your partner to be more positive. Compliments can also help your partner to overcome insecurities that may be leading them to be negative.
If you find that you are struggling with unpleasant emotions as a result of negativity in marriage, you may benefit from seeking counseling to help you cope.
While negativity in marriage can be damaging, and it can be difficult to be on the receiving end of it, remember that you cannot control your partner or change their behavior.
It can be hard not to take your spouse’s negativity personally, but you can stay positive by taking care of your own needs and doing things that make you happy. Hopefully, your partner will learn ways to be less negative, but you are only responsible for your own behavior.
Sometimes, reacting in a nonchalant manner to your partner’s negativity may even be helpful.
For instance, if your partner is criticizing you or blaming you for something that is not your fault, there is no need to defend yourself or accept the blame. Simply move along, and don’t let it affect you. Your partner may change their tune when they realize that negativity doesn’t get a reaction.
It is also helpful to remember that your positive energy can counteract your partner’s negativity.
Recognize your own strengths and values, and cultivate your own positivity. This puts you in a better position to cope with your partner’s criticism and to help your partner deal with whatever is going on with them that is leading to such negativity.
10 ways to keep negativity out of your marriage
While negativity in relationships is certainly harmful, there are ways to keep negative energy away, as well as ways of how to stop being negative in a relationship.
Here are ten ways to keep negativity out of your marriage:
1. Counteract negative interactions with positive ones
Remember, marriage experts argue that a couple needs five positive interactions to overcome negative exchanges. When you find yourself being negative or critical toward your partner, be careful to follow this negativity with plenty of positivity.
2. Have open communication with your partner
Allow your partner to express when they feel hurt by your behavior, and be willing to talk to your partner when they have been overly critical or hypersensitive.
No one is perfect. We all have flaws, and there are things about us that annoy our partner, and visa-versa. Avoid the urge to nit pick your partner’s flaws, as this only invites negativity into the relationship.
5. Take time to let your partner know you appreciate them
This is a prime example of how to not be negative. Everyone wants to feel valued, and when you take time to praise your partner or express gratitude for what they do for you, they will be likely to reciprocate, leading to being more positive in a relationship.
6. Let go of grudges
You can detect negative energy in a person when they are constantly bringing up past wrongdoings. Keep negativity in marriage at bay by letting go of grudges. When you forgive your partner for a mistake, don’t bring it up repeatedly or throw it in their face during a future argument.
7. Don’t make any room for jealousy in your relationship
When you find yourself feeling jealous toward your partner, you are opening the door to negativity. If you are jealous of your partner or feel the need to compete, you may find yourself wanting to bring them down in order to feel better.
Instead of being jealous, practice being happy for your partner when they accomplish something.
In the short video below, Matthew Hussey says jealousy arises out of comparison. He further explains tips to overcome jealousy and remain positive.
8. Stop comparing your marriage to other people’s relationships
Each relationship is unique, and if you are constantly comparing your partner to someone else or reminding your partner of how they fall short, you are asking for negativity.
Appreciate your partner for their strengths, and remember that in some ways, other couples may compare themselves to you.
9. Appreciate the value of humor
Laughing together is a great way to counteract negativity in relationships. Take time to tell jokes or see the humor in everyday life.
10. Make an effort to be kind to your partner
Practice compassion when they are struggling or have made a mistake, and be careful to use kind words, rather than being critical. It may sound cliche, but when you treat your partner with the kindness that you also want to receive, you will likely get kindness in return.
This is a great way to avoid negativity and its consequences for a marriage.
Negativity in marriage is damaging. It involves frequent criticism, pessimism, and conflict between spouses. Over time, negativity can take such a hold that it seems as if the entire marriage is negative. This level of tension can lead to unhappiness and eventually divorce.
Fortunately, there are ways of how to deal with negativity in marriage. If you find that you are the one who is always negative toward your spouse, you can reframe your thinking by giving affirmations to your partner, correcting negative self-talk, and practicing gratitude.
If you are on the receiving end of your partner’s negativity, there are ways of how to stay positive in a negative environment, such as surrounding yourself with positive people and trying to invite your partner to do something fun together.
Ultimately, marriages are strongest when you keep negative energy away and practice kindness with your partner, but if you find that negativity is damaging your marriage despite your efforts to cope with it, you and your spouse may benefit from working with a relationship therapist to learn how to deal with negativity.
If you feel disconnected or frustrated about the state of your marriage but want to avoid separation and/or divorce, the marriage.com course meant for married couples is an excellent resource to help you overcome the most challenging aspects of being married.
Jenni Jacobsen is a licensed social worker with a master's degree in social work from The Ohio State University, and she is in the process of completing her dissertation for a Doctorate of Philosophy in Psychology. She has worked in the social work field for 8 years and is currently a professor at Mount Vernon Nazarene University. She writes website content about mental health, addiction, and fitness.
Licensed as both a social worker through Ohio Board of Counselors, Social Workers, and Marriage/Family Therapists and school social worker through Ohio Department of Education as well as a personal trainer through American Council on Exercise.