Today, Carrie Oliver shares her thoughts on how making assumptions based on a negative perspective can impact intimacy in relationships.
If I think that Gary is generally unkind, not gentle, thoughtless, and insensitive, then I will not believe that he has good things for me, I will not take criticism from him, and I will not want to go through conflict. Assuming the worst about our spouse can become a habit and can start soon after we marry. It can be as small as believing they do not love and care for us as much as they should. If they forget to take the trash out, it is because they are only thinking of themselves; if they are late without calling, they do not care enough to do so; if they do not want sex as much, it must be because they do not desire us as much as they used to.
Some of these issues may need some attention and some of them may be true. But in Dr. John Gottman’s research, in our work with couples, and in our own marriage, we’ve found that thinking negatively about our spouse can become a habit and is a very strong barrier to creating safety and intimacy.
When I think Gary does not think positively about me, then I do not want to trust him with my heart. In fact, I may spend much of my time defending my heart. This, with time, creates anger at him. Many of us do not realize that it is a choice to view our spouse positively. We can assume the best about our spouse until proven differently. An occupational hazard of being human is to think negatively about ourselves and others. As we choose to believe the best, we can make a powerful difference in the level of trust and intimacy we will experience in our relationships.
For an example, consider how John and Sarah have created negative filters through which they were seeing each other. When John would look at Sarah, he put on his negative Sarah lenses, and Sarah viewed John through her negative John lenses. When we do this, we seldom can point out any positive and helpful action, reaction, word, emotion, etc., that our spouse has to offer. Because we have been hurt or frustrated or angry with our spouse without understanding or resolving issues, these experiences color anything good or positive or helpful about our spouse.
John asks Sarah to go to dinner on Thursday night. Instead of saying, “That would be lovely; where shall we go?” she responds by saying, “Oh, you’re just asking me out because you haven’t done so in a month and you feel guilty, or you are doing it because our counselor said we needed to have more dating experiences. You are not asking me out because you want to be with me.” See how this negativity totally sabotages anything good about what John has done and ultimately sabotages a good time for Sarah?
Action for today
Monitor your thoughts toward your husband and your children. If negative thoughts occur, take a moment to reflect on what the origin of those thoughts might be, then make an effort to refocus your thoughts from a more positive perspective.
Used with permission from Carrie and Gary Oliver’s book, Mad About Us: Moving from Anger to Intimacy with Your Spouse.