Welcome back to our foray into healthy relationships. In February, the month of love, we’re answering these questions: What are the warning signs that our relationship is headed for combustion? How can we identify if a relationship is headed for bliss? And how can we cultivate a healthy relationship? Last week we talked about Key Attributes of a Healthy Relationship. So, this week, I thought it would be important to look at reverse, destructive behaviors in a relationship.
As always, to start let’s ask the Chico Creek Therapists for their wisdom into common warning signs they see in therapy sessions.
Robert Ponce said, “Negativity, especially when a person reacts to their partner with negativity, is the #1 warning sign for me.”
Jessica Wilkerson whole heartedly agreed. She followed up by saying:
“The breakdown in a relationship occurs when negativity is dominant. One or both people in the relationship fall into the rut of a “glass half empty” role. They come home from work and complain about what went wrong or notice the dish that didn’t get washed, and they start the “negativity rollercoaster,” day after day. Since no one lives in a bubble regular negative thoughts can’t be contained within an individual, they touch the home and the relationship. The other spouse might fight against the negativity for a while and try to be upbeat for both of them. But, eventually they become drained and feed into the negative cycle. It’s usually at this stage the relationship feels desperate for both people and they come in for couples counseling.”
Shelley Bullen had a slightly different take:
“The #1 warning for me is when one partner refuses to put their phone away during the evening, even for a short period of time. This is phone addiction.”
This inability to engage, even for a short period of time, shows our need to escape or numb when life gets beyond our ability to cope. Any addiction is a way out. It’s a mechanism to escape into something rather than facing the pain, the hurt, the disappointment head on. It’s a way to compartmentalize the pain. Consequently, the message, regardless of intent, is the relationship with our phones are more important that our relationships with our partners. It communicates rejection and negativity.
Negativity really is that silent poison that kills everything it infiltrates, whether it is a romantic relationship, a friendship, or our attitudes in any given circumstance. In my life, I’ve found negativity to be a defense mechanism I use to avoid disappointment or to mask how out-of-control I feel in my life. We have to put off that vacation again due to a tight pocketbook? I knew it! You always spend too much money on frivolous things. How much did you spend on coffee breaks this month? Or how about this one? You’re home late from work again? Why do I even try to make a special dinner or think we might steal a few minutes together? You don’t value me the way I value you. (*Insert your personal round and round unresolved fight).
This thinking is toxic. And no matter how much it may feel true, is it?
What if that extra five-dollars spent on coffee was a needed break from an exceptionally stressful day? What if those extra hours at the office are your partner’s way of ensuring financial stability?
In my relationship, I’ve found that my husband is always doing the best he can with the resources he has. His attitude towards me, and our kids, is always to provide, always to love, and always to put our needs before his own. Our happiness makes him happy. And if I keep these truths about who he is and how he thinks in the forefront of my mind, even through disappointment, I’ve found my perspective of the situation changes. No longer am I critical or negative, instead I see his intention and his heart. This perspective change solidifies our partnership, it ensures we stay on the same team, fighting for the same goals, and lifting each other up as individuals. It helps me give him the same grace I desperately need when I unintentionally disappoint him.
Make It Personal
Negativity is a had habit to break, but irradiating it is essential to build and maintain a healthy relationship. Now for the hard work.
What areas of your relationship (or your life) do you most respond to with negativity? I highly suggest you journal this. Once you identify those areas, dig deeper. Why is your immediate response negative? Are you disappointed? Hurt? Is an expectation unfulfilled?
When we know the underlying belief or feeling behind our negativity, it’s easier to change our behavior. Now, we know why we are negative and we can speak to these hurts and beliefs instead of lash out. I’m not suggesting, presenting our hurt to our partner is easy. In fact, this type of vulnerability takes courage, but vulnerability to expose our hearts begins strengthening our relationships, and most importantly, helps us honor ourselves as well.
We’d love to hear your process. In the comments tell us about negativity that you’ve identified in your relationship and how you’ve started to change it.
Meet Rachelle DeNecochea, Chico Creek Counseling’s new blogger. Rachelle worked as office manager for Chico Creek Counseling, but now spends most of her time writing fantasy novels for teens and blogging about bravery, risk-taking, and living fully. She has an undergraduate degree in behavioral science and a master’s degree in business. She lives in Chico, CA with her superhero husband and two almost grown minions. If you’d like to connect, follow her personal blog or send a message through her Acts of Bravery Facebook page. She’d love to chat with you.