This article was first published on KSL.com
I consider myself a pretty optimistic person. My husband on the other hand is very negative, holds tons of resentment and is always complaining. It really is hard to be around all the negativity from him and his entire family. It's definitely a coping mechanism they all have developed. I get annoyed and shut down when he's like this and when I have ever tried to talk to him about it he gets very defensive and withdraws himself. He says he feels he can't talk to me about a lot of stuff because he doesn't want to upset me or sound like he is complaining too much... Please tell me how I can find peace with this because I know I can't make him change. I want to strengthen our relationship and communication, but I feel lost on what to do. I also worry the negative attitude will rub off on my children and that really bothers me.
In my last two articles I’ve addressed levels of consciousness and the effects of negative fear-based thinking on your life, but when your spouse is filling your world with negative energy, they can easily pull you down with them. Your significant other has more power to affect your mood than anyone else because of how important they are to you, but that is no excuse for giving your power away. You can and must remain in control of yourself and your emotions every day, especially when your spouse is struggling. You going down (in energy and spirit) with them, won’t help anyone.
Here are some things you can do to maintain your positive energy in any situation and influence your negative spouse to get more positive. First, you must understand a couple basic principles of human behavior that will help you see your spouse’s behavior accurately and remain in control of your attitude.
Principle 1: All bad behavior is based in that person’s fears for and about them.
Most of the time a person with a negative attitude is either terribly afraid they might not be good enough (they have a fear of failure) or they are afraid of loss (being walked on, taken from, or mistreated). These two core fears make them see everyone as a threat. That can also make them overly sensitive to feeling offended, put down or cheated and they will often see offenses that aren’t really there. They may also be subconsciously selfish (overly focused on their own concerns and needs) and have a hard time seeing anyone else’s. Make sure you don't take their lack of attention towards you personally. It is about their fear about themselves. It is not about you.
Principle 2: People in fear will complain and point out the bad in everything and everyone. They do this because if they stay focused on the bad outside themselves, it distracts them from the bad they are afraid is inside them.
If they can cast anyone or anything as “the bad one” that subconsciously makes them feel like they must be the “good one.” This is just one of the quirky subconscious ways we humans deal with fear of failure and we all do this (even you at times) so don’t stand in judgment here. We call this tendency the “shame and blame game.” When you feel shame or fear about yourself, you automatically look for someone else and their bad to focus on.
I want you to understand this because I’m pretty sure your husband is battling some internal fears of failure or loss. It probably helps him at some level to focus on the bad in everything around him so he doesn’t have to deal with his fear. It would be better if he could escape the fear and focus on the positive, of course, but until he learns to do that, you are right, this is his coping mechanism.
I find it helps me to accurately understand why people do this so I don’t take anything they say personally, especially when the blame comes my way. Make sure you choose forgiveness, compassion and accuracy towards your husband and understand that his negative attitude could even be serving a purpose in your life.
Yes, I said that. His negative attitude, like everything else in the classroom of life is here to serve you in some way. This may be serving you by providing a beautiful opportunity to practice choosing a positive attitude when it’s hard to do. This relationship is helping you learn to be stronger, wiser and more loving. Every time he is negative, you get to practice choosing gratitude, unconditional love and peace. If you see your situation this way, you will focus more on your own behavior, instead of being bothered by his. There are some great articles about choosing your mindset and not getting upset by things on my website. They might help you to gain more control over your emotions when things get rough at home. (Look for the white arrow.)
There are also a couple of things you could also do to help him change his negative outlook (and that secret to a happy marriage is coming). Don't go into this trying to change your husband. You have to go into this determined to love your husband more, not change him, and trust that love often creates change. If you do this right, you won’t change him - he will change himself. Then, everyone wins. (These suggestions, by the way, also apply to teens, parents or anyone else you would like to influence for the better.)
1 - Understand that every person (especially your spouse and children) wants to feel these four things on a daily basis. More than anything else they want to feel:
If you answered no, this is the problem in your relationship. You are probably bringing fear, disappointment, resentment and rejection energy into your marriage and no marriage can survive that for long.
Understand that every interaction you have with your spouse is creating either more love energy or more fear energy in the relationship. Over time, whichever you have brought more of wins. You might even keep a tally of every interaction you have during a week and mark down a point for love if you made them feel those four things, and one for fear, if you brought anything negative into the conversation. This is a great way to see how you're doing.
These interactions are also influencing the way your partner sees himself. If you want to help this person to feel better about himself and life, this is one thing you can do to help him. Make sure you do or say something everyday that makes your spouse (child or parent) feel respected, admired, appreciated and wanted. Make this your number one focus. You cannot be responsible for fixing this person’s self-esteem, because in the end he/she is the only one in control of it, but if you do these four things, every day, you can literally change the way he/she sees their self. You can lessen their fear of failure.
I mean, if a man is respected, admired, appreciated and wanted by his wife, he must not be failing too bad. Right?
This is the real secret to a happy marriage. Each person must make their spouse feel respected, admired, appreciate and wanted every day.
2) The second thing you might try is an approach we call the Encouragement Technique. Basically, you sit down with a pen and paper and describe this person at their very best. How would they behave if they were being the person they have the potential to be. Get a clear picture of this amazing person on paper.
Then look for opportunities to tell them this is who they are, right now. Thank them for being that way (even if they hardly are). In your case, you might look for anything positive in his outlook and say, “Babe you are such a positive person these days. I love how your outlook on life has changed lately. You are an amazing man who sees the good in everyone. I sure love that about you.”
If you say these kinds of things often enough, your husband will literally start seeing himself as a positive person. This technique works because people want to live up to your highest opinion of them. (Some people say they feel like they are lying when they first try this technique, but I think of it more as seeing the best in the person, even before they can see it.) It works amazingly well on kids, too. Keep telling them how amazing, smart, kind and honest they are, and if you say it often enough, this is who they will become.
Remember, love is always the answer. No amount of nagging, talking, pointing things out, begging for changes, or threatening will ever change a situation the way love can.
You can do this.
Kimberly Giles is the founder and president of claritypointcoaching.com. She is also the author of the new book "Choosing Clarity: The Path to Fearlessness" and a popular life coach and speaker.
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Kimberly Giles is the president and founder of Claritypoint Life Coaching and 12 SHAPES INC. She is an author and professional speaker. She was named one of the top 20 advice gurus in the country by Good Morning America in 2010. She appears regularly on local and national TV and Radio.