How to Keep Negativity out of Your Marriage

Angry couple
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Negativity can come in the form of cynicism, criticism, whining, attacking, pessimism, discontent, perfectionism, and hyperintensity. All of these behaviors can push people away, including your spouse.

Dr. John Gottman, the founder of The Gottman Institute who has been doing research on relationships since the 1970s, points out that there is a "magic relationship ratio" of negative and positive reactions. In an article about Gottman's findings, Kyle Benson writes, "That 'magic ratio' is 5 to 1. This means that for every negative interaction during conflict, a stable and happy marriage has five (or more) positive interactions."

What does that mean for your relationship? Can your marriage survive a high degree of negativity? Can someone overcome a negative outlook on life? These are good questions that many couples are faced with.

Are You Naturally Negative?

If you are concerned that you have a negative personality or lean that way, ask yourself the following questions.

  • Do you find yourself in a bad mood on a regular basis? Do you dwell on bad things or painful memories?
  • Are you critical of everyone in your life? Do you look at incidents and events from a negative perspective?
  • Are you a perfectionist? If someone says, "Good Morning", do you wonder what's good about it?
  • Are you quick to say "No" and rarely say "Yes" to requests from your partner or kids?

If you answer yes to most of these questions, your negative personality could have a harmful impact on your relationship.

Change Your Pattern of Negativity

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:

  • Eat healthy foods.
  • Be more accepting.
  • Get enough sleep.
  • Be willing to forgive both yourself and your partner.
  • Practice mindfulness.
  • Exercise.
  • Do something each day that makes you smile. Keep this simple like listening to a favorite song, spending time on a creative hobby, watching a funny video, or taking a bubble bath.
  • When you feel a negative response entering your mind, question it. Force yourself to think of something positive instead.
  • Volunteer your time and do something for others.
  • Stay in contact with positive people.
  • Remind yourself of things you are thankful for.
  • Honestly compliment your spouse whenever an appropriate opportunity, such as successfully completing a difficult work project, presents itself. 
  • Be open to seeking professional help.

Help Your Negative Spouse

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

  • Do not take the negativity personally.
  • Remember that the negativity is their problem, not yours.
  • If your partner rejects your offers of help, don't overreact.
  • Spend time with positive people. You could likely use some time off from the negativity at home.
  • Invite your spouse to take a walk or do some fun activity with you at least once a week.
  • Acknowledge your partner's positive accomplishments.
  • Encourage your partner to try new things.
  • Don't be afraid to say "Enough!" and change the subject to something more positive.
  • Be open to seeking professional help.

Turn the Negative Into Positives

Overall, keep in mind the advice of Dr. Gottman: for every negative create five positives. 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 and try to counteract any negativity you experience. You may be surprised at the effect it has on both of you over time.

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Article Sources
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  1. Research. The Gottman Institute.

  2. Benson K. The Magic Relationship Ratio, According to Science. The Gottman Institute. Published 2017.

  3. The Power of Positive Thinking. John Hopkins Health.

  4. 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