Does it feel like all your interactions with your spouse have involved blame and criticism? This is a pattern that many couples can fall in to during their marriage.
At these times it can be easy to start doubting your spouse and feel like you are drifting apart. Emotions of anger, frustration and guilt overshadow those feelings of love and happiness that came so easy at the start.
Unfortunately, what you are in is a negativity trap.
But don’t worry - there ARE ways to break this vicious cycle and rekindle those feelings of closeness and connection in your marriage.
1. Focus on the positive
Sometimes it can be easy to get so stuck thinking about the negative that the positive aspects of our relationships get ignored.
It may seem simple, but behavior therapists have consistently found that positive reinforcement is the most effective way of reducing negative behaviour and increasing the positive. And this is something you can do! Not only with your husband or wife, but also your children.
So how do we do this? It’s simple:
IGNORE any NEGATIVE behavior (unless it is extreme and needs to be addressed).
ACKNOWLEDGE and PRAISE POSITIVE behavior, using rewards such as comments, smiles, praises and compliments.
For example, maybe you and your spouse have been fighting a lot over jobs not being done around the house and blaming each other for not doing these.
This is likely to make each of you feel angry and resent doing the jobs, therefore making the jobs even less likely to get done.
This cycle could be broken by following these steps:
First taking a deep breath and taking a step back from the situation. Think about what you are wanting to achieve:
1. The jobs being completed
2. To have a positive relationship with your spouse
Now the hard part: to try and IGNORE any jobs you feel your partner hasn’t done. If possible, put them at the back of your mind if it's possible to get by without these things being completed. It may take longer, but allowing a longer timeframe to allow your spouse to get the task completed may replace any need for you to remind them or get angry about it.
If it's a crucial task that needs to be done urgently, consider how quickly you might do these jobs yourself, versus the time taken to argue and fight about it. Is it a battle worth fighting, or is the discussion better left to another day when feelings are calmer?
Now for the praise. Next time you notice that your spouse has done a job, give them PRAISE and thank them. This will make your spouse feel appreciated and increase the likelihood of them doing this job again in future.
Continue to repeat this process until praise and cooperation become an entrenched behavior.
Although it may feel frustrating to start off with, you will be amazing to see how quickly the negativity in your relationship fades away and you start to reconnect again. The jobs will be done and both of you will start feeling good about yourselves for what you have achieved, rather than feeling guilty about what you haven’t. Not to mention a major sense of relief!
This same process can be used for any type of negative behaviour patterns that are occurring in your relationship.
If the negativity continues, however, this may be a sign that your partner is unwilling to try to improve things in your relationship. If this is the case, it may be time to try a different tactic, or have a serious talk about whether they are committed to your marriage and making a change for the better.
2. Make yourself vulnerable
One way that works really well to break a cycle of negativity is to put yourself out there, show vulnerability and accept some responsibility.
For example, ask your spouse to have time to talk, then start the conversation like this:
“I feel terrible that everything has been so negative between us lately. I know that it takes two to argue and there have been things I’ve been saying and doing that are hurtful and I really want this to stop.
I’m sorry. I love you and this is not how you or I deserve to be treated. I would really like us to move forward from this and start treating each other better again. How do you feel about this?”
Although it is hard to do, by putting yourself out there and admitting that you have played a part in contributing to the negative atmosphere, your spouse should also feel open to admitting their own part in this. It will be a relief for both of you to have talked and got it out in the open.
It will also be reaffirming to know that you still care about each other and want to change things to make the marriage work. However, make sure that your spouse does also acknowledge their part in creating the negative atmosphere as it is essential that you both accept responsibility in order to be able to move on.
3. Get down to the core
Sometimes when we have a large issue in our relationship that is difficult to discuss, we can start taking it out on our spouse in other ways and avoid the big issue. For example, through getting overly irritated at little things they do which usually wouldn’t bother us, like leaving their plate in the sink.
This can lead to a lot of negativity, as your spouse feels that they are being unfairly treated and may have no idea of what is really bothering you. Sometimes you may not even really be aware of what the underlying issue is.
So when you are finding yourself getting frustrated with your spouse easily, take some time out to think about what the root of the problem is. What is the underlying theme? Usually once you give yourself some space to think it will become clear.
For example, maybe the real problem is you’ve been feeling like your spouse hasn’t been spending any time with you lately, but you’ve been taking it on them through nagging about their lack of housework rather than talking to them about it.
But once you have identified what the true problem is, the best way to break the negative cycle is to come out and talk about it. You will probably find that your spouse is very open to discussing the problem and is relieved to finally know what is going on.
The key here is to increase your awareness of the negativity in your marriage and to challenge it. The sooner you (and your spouse) are looking for ways to defeat negativity, the greater your chances of enabling love and respect to flourish once again.