“Negative interpretations are something you have to confront within yourself. Only you can control how you interpret your partner’s behavior.” – Fighting For Your Marriage.
It Starts With You. Here Are Three Things You Can Do:
1. Explore your intimate relationship history and assumptions about people who are important to you.
Research on attachment styles highlights that we develop beliefs about what we can expect or anticipate from others who are close to us. These past experiences create a bias to view others in similar ways. The problem is that these beliefs can be self-perpetuating. In Jamie’s case, she believed that her needs were unimportant, and this is related to her childhood upbringing. This is further seen by how she somewhat passively asks about going out to celebrate, rather than sharing her needs directly and vulnerably. Often these negative interpretations are rooted in past attachment injuries that occurred before the current relationship. Healing this will help change future interactions.
Here is a question to help you start this:
Exercise: What are some areas in your life in which you find yourself consistently perceiving your partner’s behavior negatively?
2. Develop healthy self-doubt.
One of the benefits of being mindful is the ability to be aware of judgments without acting on them. To be able to question them. This is probably one skill that I am most grateful for. Based on my relationship history (step one above), my brain has a tendency to be overly negative in the way I view my partner’s actions and words. By being mindful, I am able to question the negativity. I often do this by looking for evidence that disproves the harsh narrative I have about my partner. To learn more about how to do this, read How You Think About Your Spouse Determines How You Love Them.
Exercise: List two issues about which you are willing to challenge yourself to look for the positive motivations of your partner. Next, look for the evidence that is contrary to your negative interpretations in Step 1, Part 1.
Do you end up indulging in negative interpretations in romantic relationships? Read Ask Yourself These 4 Questions Every Morning, To Get Control Of Your Mind
3. Own your needs and feelings.
Often when we blame others, we put all the responsibility for the problem on them. The reality is that underneath any criticism or contempt lurks a hidden wish or longing. The number one way partners can improve their conflict is by changing how they say things. Research shows that 96% of the time if a conversation starts negative it will end negative. Instead of blaming, express your feelings about a situation and what you long for. To learn more, read Help Your Partner Understand Your Side of the Conflict in 3 Steps and Transforming Criticism Into Wishes: A Recipe for Successful Conflict.
We’re in it Together. Three Things You and Your Partner Can Do:
1. Intentionally create more positivity in your relationship.
One of the best ways to fight negative interpretations is to create a culture of cherishing one another. This includes asking open-ended questions to learn more about your partner, listening to your partner’s stressors, having intimate conversations and date nights, expressing daily appreciation, sharing what you are fond of about your partner, being affectionate, and creating rituals of connection. This counteracts the hopelessness and demoralization that causes more interpretations. “When relationships become more distressed, the negative interpretations mount and help create an environment of hopelessness and demoralization.”
2. Process unresolved problems from the past.
Unfortunately, regrettable incidents that haven’t been addressed melt away the positive connection in a relationship, creating a chasm between partners. Sit down with your partner and use the Gottman’s Aftermath of a Fight Guide to process any attachment injuries or past negative events that come up when you tend to have negative interpretations.
3. Intentionally meet each week to discuss what is going well in your relationship and opportunities for improvement.
Being proactive about relationship issues often leads to both partners being less reactive and negative. To learn how to do this, check out Conversation Type 5: Relationship Enhancement Conversations.