How to Deal With a Negative Spouse

What to Do When Negativity Affects Your Relationship

Angry couple

Martin Siepmann / Stockbyte / Getty Images

It can be very hard to deal with a negative spouse. Negativity in marriage can come in the form of cynicism, criticism, whining, attacking, pessimism, discontent, perfectionism, and hyper-intensity. Coping with these behaviors and attitudes is a serious challenge.

There are a number of reasons why someone might be negative in a relationship. Fortunately, there are ways to help or cope with a negative spouse.

To deal with a negative spouse, you can:

  • Practice empathy
  • Be forgiving
  • Set boundaries
  • Engage in self-care
  • Seek social support outside of your spouse

In some cases, negativity can ruin a relationship—but it doesn't always need to. With some honest communication and genuine effort, relationship dynamics can shift from negative to positive.

This article discusses the signs of negativity, what causes it, and how it can affect a relationship. It also covers how you can help a negative spouse and how you can care for yourself in this situation.

Signs of Negativity

If you answer yes to most of the following questions, it's likely that you're dealing with negativity that could potentially have a negative impact on your relationship.

  • Perfectionist: Are you a perfectionist, or is your partner?
  • Critical: Is one of you critical of everyone in your life? Do you look at incidents and events from a negative perspective?
  • Dismissive: Are you, or is your partner, quick to say "no"? Do you rarely say "yes" to requests from your partner or kids?
  • Moody: Do you find yourself in a bad mood on a regular basis? Does your partner regularly seem to be in a bad mood? Does either of you dwell on bad things or painful memories?

Other traits of negative people include consistently being pessimistic, worrying about things that most people would view as insignificant, and complaining all the time.

However, keep in mind that someone's negativity doesn't have to define them. It's possible that there are underlying causes of negativity, and your partner can learn to use more adaptive ways to cope.

Recap

A negative spouse may be moody, critical, and dismissive. They may also be perfectionists that express anger or disappointment when other people don't measure up to their high expectations.

Causes of Negativity

There are a number of different factors that can contribute to negativity in a marriage or romantic partnership.

Negativity Bias

The human brain has a natural tendency to prefer negative information. Negative events tend to garner more attention and have a greater impact on the brain than positive ones.

In relationships, this negativity bias often causes people to always expect the worst or always be on the defensive. It can also contribute to conflict and resentment.

Communication Issues 

Communication is important for healthy relationships, which is why problems in this area may contribute to feelings of negativity. Problems like assuming you know what the other person is thinking, criticizing one another, or giving each other the silent treatment can contribute to negativity and resentment.

Stress

Excessive stress can make it difficult for people to stay positive. It can leave you or your partner in a constant state of anxiety, seriously affecting the ability to feel optimistic.

Personality

Some people tend to come by a tendency toward negativity naturally. It might simply be part of their inborn temperament or personality.

Mental Health Conditions

In some cases, mental health conditions can cause constant negative thinking. Disorders linked with negative thinking include depression, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

If your partner's negative thinking is disruptive to their everyday life, they would benefit from talking to a therapist or mental health professional.

Recap

There may be a number of reasons why your spouse is negative, including mental health conditions. If you suspect that you or your partner is experiencing negativity due to a condition such as depression, talk to your healthcare provider.

Effects of Negativity in a Relationship

According to the renowned relationship psychologist and researcher John Gottman, PhD, there is a "magic ratio" for keeping relationships healthy and stable.

In an article about Gottman's findings, Kyle Benson writes, "That 'magic ratio' is five to one. This means that for every negative interaction during conflict, a stable and happy marriage has five (or more) positive interactions."

If this ratio is unbalanced, it can take a serious toll on a relationship. Negativity in marriage:

  • Magnifies the other person's faults or shortcomings
  • Decreases gratitude
  • Makes it difficult for partners to empathize with each other
  • Causes both people to feel undervalued and unappreciated

Being around a negative person can cause you to feel depressed or sad as well. Research even confirms that negativity is contagious. Communicating negativity in social interactions, even through facial expressions, can pass that negativity on to others. (The good news is: Positivity is contagious, too.)

What does that mean for your relationship? Can your marriage survive a high degree of negativity? Can someone overcome a negative outlook on life? Change is possible, but it requires effort.

How to Change Negative Thinking

If you are chronically negative, you can change your pattern of negative thinking. However, you have to want to make this change, and no one can do it for you.

Here are some things you can do to be more positive:

Recap

There are a number of things you and your spouse can do to change negative thinking patterns. If you've tried these strategies and are still struggling, consider talking to a mental health professional.

How to Encourage Positivity

If you are in a relationship with someone who has a negative personality, you are not responsible for making them feel better. However, you can help your partner be more positive.

How to Deal With a Negative Spouse

While it would be ideal for your negative partner to change their thinking patterns, this may not always happen. You may not be able to change your spouse, but there are self-help strategies you can use to help deal with their negativity. 

Practice Empathy and Kindness

Set an example for your partner by focusing on being a positive force. Model the empathy and kindness that you hope for them to emulate. Over time, your partner may find it increasingly difficult to respond to your positivity with a negative attitude.

Be Forgiving

It is easy to let yourself become bitter and negative about your partner's bad attitude. Instead of letting their mood affect yours, focus on forgiving their mistakes and moving on.

Set Boundaries

Boundaries establish what you will and will not tolerate in a relationship. While your partner is allowed to have feelings, make it clear that there are limits to what you will accept. Once you make these boundaries clear, be willing to enforce them if they are violated.

Care for Yourself

Don't allow your partner's negativity to interfere with your health and well-being. Ensure that you are treating yourself kindly, including getting enough rest and care.

Cultivate Positive Relationships

It is important to seek social support outside of your relationship. While your partner may be negative, you can build relationships with other people who can help bring positivity and optimism into your life.

Recap

You can help your spouse and care for yourself by practicing kindness, but maintaining strong boundaries. Focus on building positive relationships with other people and encourage your partner to get help if their negativity is taking a toll on your relationship or their ability to function.

How to Cope With a Negative Ex-Spouse

When an ex-spouse is negative, you can try the strategies above to help yourself cope. However, in the case of a former partner, you may have stricter boundaries surrounding what is acceptable and what isn't.

For instance, if you are sharing custody, you might have a rule that you and your ex only talk about your children and topics that pertain to their well-being. Maybe you handle most of your communication with your ex over the phone (not face-to-face) if this makes it easier to keep your conversations light and brief.

Knowing what it's like to have a negative spouse and ex-spouse, you can focus on building relationships with more positive people in the future.

What to Do in a Toxic Marriage

You want to make sure you're keeping yourself safe, especially if you are learning how to deal with an angry, negative spouse. This is where boundaries are very important. It's not fair for your partner to project their anger or toxic behavior onto you.

Couples therapy may help you both learn healthy ways to improve your relationship. There are also resources such as books on building a healthy marriage and anger management groups that you or your spouse can look into.

Some relationships can be mended with time and effort, but this is not always the case.

Signs That Your Marriage Is Beyond Repair

If your relationship becomes toxic, meaning your well-being and/or your partner's well-being is threatened physically, emotionally, or psychologically, it may be time to consider ending your marriage.

This is especially true if your boundaries are consistently being violated and your partner shows no remorse or willingness to change.

Some couples experience what is commonly referred to as a "silent divorce." A silent divorce is when a couple stays together, but they don't engage in physical or emotional intimacy anymore. If this is the case, you may want to have an honest conversation with your partner about whether either of you wants to continue the relationship.

If your spouse is abusive (whether the abuse is physical, verbal, or sexual), it's important to know that their behavior is not your fault. If you can, speak to a therapist or counselor, or to a trusted friend or family member. If the abuse persists, you may wish to build a support network that can help you make an exit plan.

Deciding whether or not it is too late to save your marriage is a difficult call to make. But remember, you deserve to be in a loving, understanding, and compassionate relationship in which you feel safe and can maintain a positive outlook.

A Word From Verywell

Keep Dr. Gottman's advice in mind: For every negative interaction, create five positive ones. It can be a challenge at times and no relationship or marriage is perfect. However, having fun, being open to communication, and enjoying each other are some of the keys to a healthy and happy marriage.

Do your best to counteract any negativity you experience. You may be surprised at the effect it has on both of you over time.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How should I talk to my negative spouse?

    Avoid being confrontational, which may make your partner defensive and even more negative. Be empathetic and try to use feeling statements when talking about your concerns.

    Rather than making accusations, talk about what you can do together to make the situation better. Be sure to maintain boundaries and walk away temporarily if your partner becomes angry or refuses to engage in conversation.

  • How can I deal with negativity about our children?

    If your partner is expressing negativity about your children, set clear boundaries about what is appropriate. Do not have these conversations in front of your kids.

    Make it clear that while your partner is allowed to have their feelings, your children are not an acceptable outlet for their feelings of frustration or negativity. Encourage your partner to talk to a mental health professional about these feelings, or consider couples therapy.

  • How can I stay positive when my spouse is always negative?

    It is hard to stay sunny when someone keeps raining on your day, but you can maintain a positive outlook. Accept that your partner is going to have their own feelings and that their negativity is not your responsibility. Be empathetic and practice kindness, but work on supporting your own well-being. Surround yourself with people who are positive and do things that bring you joy and contentment.

Was this page helpful?
9 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Cacioppo JT, Cacioppo S, Gollan JK. The negativity bias: Conceptualization, quantification, and individual differencesBehavioral and Brain Sciences. 2014;37(3):309-310. doi:10.1017/s0140525x13002537

  2. Gustavson DE, du Pont A, Whisman MA, Miyake A. Evidence for ransdiagnostic repetitive negative thinking and its association with rumination, worry, and depression and anxiety symptoms: A commonality analysisCollabra Psychol. 2018;4(1):13. doi:10.1525/collabra.128

  3. The Gottman Institute. Research.

  4. Benson K. The magic relationship ratio, according to science. The Gottman Institute.

  5. Herrando C, Constantinides E. Emotional contagion: A brief overview and future directions. Front Psychol. 2021;12:712606. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2021.712606

  6. Johns Hopkins Health. The power of positive thinking.

  7. Bloch L, Haase CM, Levenson RW. Emotion regulation predicts marital satisfaction: More than a wives' tale. Emotion. 2014;14(1):130-44. doi:10.1037/a0034272

  8. Schofield MJ, Mumford N, Jurkovic D, Jurkovic I, Bickerdike A. Short and long-term effectiveness of couple counselling: a study protocolBMC Public Health. 2012;12:735. doi:10.1186/1471-2458-12-735

  9. Scott SB, Rhoades GK, Stanley SM, Allen ES, Markman HJ. Reasons for divorce and recollections of premarital intervention: Implications for improving relationship educationCouple Family Psychol. 2013;2(2):131-145. doi:10.1037/a0032025