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Negativity Bias: How to Keep it From Killing Your Marriage

 

Research has shown that humans tend to focus on the negative over the positive. “The grass is always greener on the other side” is a common phrase that gives credence to the reality of what’s known as the negativity bias.

Not only does this bias toward the negative lead to us being more sensitive and attuned to the negative, but it causes us to weigh more heavily whatever bad this may bring to us and minimizing the potential for good.

Negativity bias also makes negative thoughts seem stronger – and linger longer – than feelings of happiness and contentment. It shifts our perspective from “glass half full” to “glass half empty” and colors our world a few shades darker with each negative thought.

How it Harms Our Marriage

This tendency towards pessimism impacts every part of our lives, including marriage!  Below are just a few ways that the negativity bias can impact your marriage and have long-term effects on the way your view your spouse and your future together:

All the positive qualities that made you fall in love with your spouse suddenly turn into annoyances and negative pet peeves begin stealing the spotlight of your relationship.

Instead of the “spontaneous and fun” partner you fell in love with, you now feel like they are “irresponsible and unfocused”. Your complaints turn into criticism, not of what they have or haven’t done but of who they are as a person.

You begin looking—consciously or unconsciously—for the worst in your partner. You begin to keep a mental record of all the perceived violations your spouse has committed against you and this just fuels your discontent.

It’s easy to see why—if this attitude is allowed to fester—any hope or optimism you had about your future together begin to dim!

Many of us inadvertently respond to this uptick in negative by leaving these thoughts unchecked and allowing them to grow from a small seed of discontent into an invasive plant. Without some intentional adjustments, the poison can seep deeper into the relationship and cause further destruction.

How to Fight It

Negativity bias does not have to be the end-all be-all of a marriage. There are concrete steps you and your spouse can take to fight back and break the pattern!  Here are some ways to do it:

Gratitude journal: Studies show that practicing a gratitude journal can overall improve a person’s mood and this tool can be used to improve your relationship as well.  Spending even a few moments every day capturing the positive qualities of your spouse can make a huge difference.

Catch the negative thoughts in action: As soon as you have a negative thought about your partner, notice its presence.  The more you become aware of the tendency to go negative, the more you can begin to change this knee-jerk mental reaction.  Note when you over-emphasize the negative or “make a mountain out of a mole hill.”

Replace negative thoughts with positive thoughts: Once you have established this new level of awareness, do your best to replace negative thoughts with positive, uplifting ones.  This doesn’t mean your negative thought is necessarily wrong, but it may also serve as a signal to spend more of your mental energy on the positive aspects of your partner.

Look in the mirror: Remind yourself that, like your mate, you are flawed and imperfect.  Remember that everyone is a work in progress and that there are things about you that no doubt create negativity for your better half.  Concentrating on these things and how to improve yourself can lift the burden of negativity and an unbalanced focus on your husband or wife.

Show your spouse an abundance of grace: We err by waiting to feel a certain way before acting when we should first take action as a way of changing how we feel!  Deliberately treating your spouse with unconditional positive regard and grace enhances the way you see and feel about your mate. Just as God has demonstrated His grace to us, we can show grace to our spouses (1 John 4:19).

As you use these practical steps to build up the way you see your partner, you’ll find yourself being weighed down less and less by negativity and enjoying all the good things marriage has to offer.

If you run to any stumbling blocks, we’re here to help and encourage you to reach out to us.  We exist to support you in whatever way we can and would love to talk with you about creating an atmosphere of love, respect, and joy in your marriage!

(Thanks to Angela Harris, who coauthored this article.)

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