When you are cranky or frustrated, do you blame someone else, like your spouse?
Do you avoid intimacy or working out conflict by spending too much time on Facebook, watching a lot of television, doing a lot of things away from home, or using other “exits”?
Do you berate or criticize your husband?
Blame. Criticism. Avoidance. Shame. These are the killers of intimacy, love, friendship, passion and trust. No one can truly feel safe in their marriage when their partner regularly engages in these behaviors. You can’t have real intimacy when either partner is under attack.
If any or all of these are regular visitors in your marriage, you should consider working to make your marriage a negativity-free zone. Research continues to show that the happiest marriages are the ones in which partners make a practice of showing their appreciation for one another, and have minimal negative behaviors.
There is no doubt that negativity cracks your connection. The more negativity, the bigger the chasm will get. So if you are looking for less connection and less closeness with your partner, you can stop reading here.
If you want to be closer with your partner and plant some seeds to make your marriage a garden of supportive love and intimacy, keep reading.
Blame is an easy place to start because more often than not, when we place blame on someone, it is not because of something he did or didn’t do. Usually, something has gone wrong for us and we express our frustrations about it by placing the blame on someone else. The biggest problem with blame, however, is that whenever we blame another person, we put ourselves in the role of the “victim” of their actions. That means giving up our own power in the situation.
The next time you want to blame your husband, or anyone else for that matter, do a reality check. Take a few deep breaths and look at what happened from an objective perspective. Are you really running late for that ferry because your husband said you should leave at 1 p.m., or because there is an unusual backup on the interstate where there normally is no traffic? And ask yourself whether you have ever made a decision that turned out bad – and would you want to be blamed for it?
Then there is criticism. Criticism often has the opposite of the intended effect and is one of the least effective ways to change anyone’s behavior. When you criticize your spouse, he will usually either retreat or fight back. Battle lines are drawn. How often have you criticized your spouse, and he’s responded with a smile, saying, “You’re absolutely right, honey, and I will never do that again!”
This is not to say that you should stuff your concerns away and not state them. To read more about why conflict avoidance is very bad for a marriage, click HERE. If there is something your husband is doing that is a problem for you, however, you can express this in a constructive way. Be selective and do it when you are in a calm state of mind and have thought through the issue.
Let’s say your husband drives very fast. Try telling him (in a even-tempered tone) that it scares you to be in the car with him when he’s driving because you are afraid of getting in a crash, and that you would like to feel safe. Perhaps you are afraid to have the kids in the car while he’s driving. Using those “I” statements our kids learn in school, tell him how his behavior makes you feel. Then ask him to do something that you think will solve the problem, such as whether he is willing to drive within 5 MPH of the speed limit. You aren’t criticizing him. You are telling him how what he is doing makes you feel. Instead of yelling, “slow down!” or “you drive like a lunatic!” you are phrasing it in a positive way that speaks to the effect his behavior has on you. Then, when he drives more safely, make sure you thank him for doing so. This is much more effective than criticism in getting him to change his behavior.
Another great way to eliminate negativity is to do something that I learned from Harville Hendrix, author of Getting the Love You Want and other books on marriage. It is called positive flooding. My husband and I have a ritual each evening at bedtime of saying at least three things for which we are grateful, and telling each other something we love or admire about the other person. It can be a personality trait, or something he did that I appreciated or thought was special.
Positive flooding has the double effect of reminding you of what you love about your spouse and letting him know what you love about him. It makes both of you feel good about yourselves and each other.
After a challenging day, it isn’t always easy to come up with these statements, but both my husband and I invariably feel better after doing so.
It is so easy to give positive flooding a try. First, make a list of all the things you love about your partner. Include things he does, or how he does them, physical attributes, and whatever else you like. Then every day, tell him one of those things. “I love listening to you play the guitar.” “You make the best chicken tikka masala!” “I’m amazed at your gardening. It always looks great outside!”
As an emotionally reactive person myself, I wish I could say that I never do any of these negative behaviors, but unfortunately, that isn’t true. I do try my best to avoid them. Making our home as negativity-free as possible has reduced conflict in our marriage because we don’t get defensive and irrational very often. It has made our marriage so much stronger and happier. It can do the same for yours, too!