Perhaps the most powerful marriage killer is negativing thinking – what goes through a partner’s mind when his/her mate does something wrong or is perceived to have done something wrong? If it is negative thoughts, even if the partner is not in the wrong, it will be a nail in the coffin. Clinical psychologist, Dr. John Crosby, writes, “We are the ones who kill our marriage. … We commit marital suicide.”
What kind of thoughts would go through your mind when your partner does not show up on time to an appointment? There are only two types of thoughts – positive or negative.
Examples of positive thoughts:
“I wonder if the car had a flat tire.”
“Maybe the traffic was congested on the street where he is traveling.”
“The meeting must have come out late and he cannot call me.”
Examples of negative thoughts:
“He is never on time.”
“She is so inconsiderate.”
“I could never depend on him to do something right.”
For many individuals, it seems as though it is easier to have negative thoughts about their partners than positive ones because that’s how they were raised – to be critical of people. Most times, there is really no reason for the negative thoughts. The continual pattern of negative thoughts will gradually destroy the relationship, even though the couple may remain together for a long time.
Writer Dr. Fernando Zabala, PhD, in his book, “I Would Marry You Again”, writes about this problem in the chapter titled, “The power negative thinking can have”. He writes, “Why is what I think about my spouse so important? The answer has to do with mental sketches. With the passing of years, we develop, unconsciously, an image of our spouse. It is something like a mental sketch. Every act is evaluated in the light of the sketch. If a certain behavior of our spouse coincides with the image that we have developed, it confirms what we already know. If it does not fit, it is discarded as unusual behavior, something out of the ordinary. In social psychology, this tendency is called confirmation bias.”
Dr. Zabala stresses, “It simply consists of looking for information that confirms what we already believe.”
Hence, if the spouse is late to an appointment, and it is not his or her fault, the lateness confirms what the partner had in the mind, that his or her spouse can never be on time. That is negative thinking. This kind of thinking would gradually eat away at the romance in the relationship. Eventually, the arguments become fiery simply because the negative thinking becomes a reality. Also, the negative thinking would have created an image of one’s spouse that is hard to change unless the negative thinking is removed.
Dr. Zabala continues, “There are mental sketches that function in all interpersonal relationships, but function with special efficiency in intimate relationships. There are two types of filters. One is called blinded by love. This filter functions in the style of transparent ‘lenses’ that allow the one wearing them (usually boyfriends and girlfriends or recently married couples) to evaluate favorably everything their partner does: it justifies their mistakes; laughs at their jokes, no matter how bad they are; praises their bright ideas; highlight their qualities, etc. The other type of filter is blinded by hate. In this case, the lenses are dark, and you can already imagine what goes through the mind of the one wearing them: It doesn’t matter what the other person does, or the good intentions of the other person. In the end, this person will see only what he or she expects to see: shadows.”
Research in emotional intelligence in marriage shows that the way to know a successful couple from a failing couple is how one responds to wrongdoing by the other partner. What influences how one responds is what one is thinking.
Psychologist Dr. Brent J. Atkinson writes in his article on emotional intelligence, “The way people respond to the worst in their partners plays a central role in determining whether or not they will experience something better from them in the future. These studies suggest that most people vastly underestimate the potentially positive influence they can have on their partners. Evidence suggests that people can dramatically influence the way their partners treat them. This is because a person’s level of motivation has so much to do with how his partner interacts with him or her. This interaction is determined by how they think about each other (positive or negative). People are almost guaranteed love relationships in which they feel respected and valued if they have certain interpersonal abilities.”
It is interesting to know that it is simply this – how we think about each other is as important as how we treat each other. More importantly, the way we think about each other determines how we treat each other. Negative thinking is truly a marriage killer. Remember, successful couples avoid criticizing each other. They avoid having negative thoughts. If your marriage is loaded with criticism and negative thoughts, try something different. When your partner does not do something the way you expected, try to find out why he did it that way and assume that it was not intentional. Positive thinking can really create a beautiful marriage.
• Barrington Brennen is a marriage and family therapist. Send your questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org, telephone 327-1980 or visit www.soencouragement.org.