We’re all familiar with them. The pile of dishes in the sink next to the empty dishwasher. The half-worn clothes on the floor. The empty milk jug sitting in the fridge and no note on the shopping list.
We’ve all probably said them. “I see opening the door to the dishwasher was just too much for you this morning.” “Have you ever heard of a hanger?” “Why can’t you ever just write it down on the grocery list? Why do I always have to be the one to do it?” While snarky comments and frequent nagging may convey our frustrations to our spouses, they don’t usually yield a happy, healthy, or fruitful response.
In marriage, everything we do matters. Every day, every moment offers us a chance to build our marriage up—or tear it down.
As human beings, we tend to focus on the negative—it interrupts the flow of our everyday life, and stands out prominently among the ordinary days, the good days.
When we focus on this negativity in marriage, it brings our attention to the things that are dissatisfying. Repetitive focus on unmet expectations turns to anger, and over time that anger can build a wall of resentment. While a quick sarcastic comment that notifies our spouse of a current (or frequent) issue may feel good in that moment, over time this attitude may negatively impact the marriage.
Dr. John Gottman, a well-respected couples therapist and researcher, would observe this as part of the four horsemen which lead to the apocalypse of your relationship. Here we have 2 of the 4 (criticism and contempt).
“Criticism” in this case would be the negativity that you are using to attack your spouse for their displeasing action.
“Contempt” in this instance is the lack of respect conveyed through sarcasm. However, there is a way to positively address negative situations. It’s all in the delivery.
My mom used to tell me, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it at all.” Although she isn’t an expert in the field of marriage and family counseling, this statement is backed with great wisdom. This week, I challenge you to try this in your marriage —instead of firing back a snarky comment in the moment, take a few moments to think about what you really mean to say before responding.
This doesn’t mean avoiding healthy discussions or feelings of disagreement. The need here is to counteract criticism with positivity in order to stabilize your relationship with the overall goal being to increase the level of satisfaction between you and your spouse.
Gottman’s research shows that there is a 1:5 ratio of negative to positive interactions to erase a negative interaction. In layman’s terms, this means that every negative interaction you have with your spouse will require 5 positive interactions for “damage control”.
Here is a real-life situation that you may be able to relate to: Your spouse said they were going to bring the kids to soccer at 4:00 so you could go grocery shopping alone, but they called you at 3:30 to cancel. In this instance, they clearly did not follow through with the agreed-upon expectation.
To bring positivity into this situation, use a “soft start-up” by telling your partner you’d like to speak with them. This will ensure the beginnings of a healthy and fruitful conversation rather than instigating an argument yielding a negative impact on your marriage.
“Honey, I’d really like to talk with you about something that is important to me. Is now a good time or would you prefer we wait to talk until after watching our show tonight?”—This adds more positivity into the conversation because it respects your spouse’s personal desires and it also honors your desire to discuss the issue. Once you are together, try to focus on what your experience of the situation was like, rather than blaming.
Read this example to evaluate whether or not it presents positivity or negativity.
“I can’t believe you canceled on me last minute like that. That was so rude of you. You know how much I need a break and how much I was looking forward to having that alone time, and you didn’t make it a priority. How could you do that??!” — Can you see how this may infuse your relationship with criticism and contempt?
When you’re trying to be positive, it usually helps to focus on your experience.
“I was so excited when you offered to come home so that I could shop. I felt really loved and cared for because I know I’ve been sharing with you how I feel like I need a break, and you heard me. When we had to reschedule, it hurt my feelings and although I am sure that was not your intention, in that moment I wasn’t sure if I was a priority. How can we make sure we follow through next time?”
—This statement conveys an approach to finding a solution to help your loved one while still clearly communicating your dissatisfaction in a more positive way.
A soft, start-up will go a long way in impacting your relationship for the better and helping increase feelings of positivity. You can learn more about that here.
You can also try verbalizing positivity in simple situations.
“I would be happy to do what I can to create a way to accomplish these goals together.”
“I am so grateful for you when you put it upon yourself to do these things. When you take care of certain things that need to be done in our family, it is so helpful.”
There is great power in being positive with your spouse.
Don’t wait for disagreements to arise to practice positivity. Tell your husband that his new shirt looks great on him—especially if he picked it out himself! Tell your wife dinner was delicious, even if it isn’t a new recipe. Smile at your spouse from across the room.
Compliments do no harm, especially when they are exchanged between spouses with a genuine heart. Focus on the positives, highlight the good things in your life, especially your marriage and spouse.
When you are positive with your spouse you are that much closer to bringing out the best in them.
Sometimes we find ourselves in a situation that our spouse just does not comprehend. You’re frustrated because they do not understand your point of view, which in turn can cause them to become frustrated—creating a vicious cycle of miscommunication.
The challenge here is to change your frustration mindset into a positive one. In the midst of thinking to yourself that “They don’t understand,” or “They won’t ever understand,” try to immerse yourself in humility so that you can retrace your steps and discover where you might have missed the mark.
Where there is a misunderstanding, there is an opportunity on both parts to understand what you may have missed.
Another way to bring positivity to your marriage is to use your manners! Manners are often underrated.
A simple please and thank you from a genuine heart can change your spouse’s day. Using manners to be kind will restore positivity in a simple yet effective way.
Being positive in your marriage can facilitate healing while cultivating an authentic connection.
At the end of the day rest in the fact that both you and your spouse said yes to each other for a reason. You are both still by each other’s side, and that is beautiful. Rejoice and be glad!
Let positivity take root in your marriage. Live it day in and day out. Your marriage will flourish, and soon you will see the power of positivity.