In distressed relationships, couples tend to fixate on their partner’s negative characteristics. As a result, small things feel dangerous. Neutral interactions feel threatening to the relationship.
That’s the power of the negativity effect. Provoked by an argument, your partner being late, going over budget, or forgetting to schedule an appointment, it brings into focus all the ways your partner falls short.
It’s hard to see beyond the disappointment that’s staring you in the face. Mainly, because not much else seems to matter in those moments.
It feels like he or she is always late.
It feels like he or she always goes over budget.
It feels like he or she always forgets to schedule important appointments.
As a result, your partner’s mistakes become the core of who they are. Recency bias has a lot to do with it. The negative image of your partner — in those moments — overpowers the positive image you’ve had of him or her in the past.
We all do it. Consequently, due to the powerful nature of a relationship stuck in negativity, recency bias can be devastating.
Seeing your partner as centrally negative overshadows what you believe to be centrally good about him or her. It corrupts your perspective of them.
It also blinds you to seeing your own deficiencies. We tend to exaggerate our partner’s faults, and simplify our own.
Your Response To It
The contagious nature of negativity guarantees it will build, and cycle back and forth between partners. Silently withdrawing, or erupting with criticism starts a cycle that feeds off itself.
The question becomes — how are you responding to disagreements? How do you see your partner when he or she is not their best self? How does he or she see you when trouble finds its way into the relationship?
Shifting into the shared belief that promotes a positive image of one another helps bring back friendship, goodwill, and a sense of reconnection.
Your partner holding a core positive image of you; and you holding a core positive image of him or her disrupts the negative energy lingering in between you two.
Still, it’s not only positive feelings that sustains your relationship. Learning how to respond to the negative feelings is how healthy couples stay connected — and reconnect when necessary.
It’s not easy. It goes against our nature when we feel defeated, distressed, and fearful of losing someone important to us. Our impulse is to react when we’re overwhelmed.
But what would it be like to mindfully respond versus impulsively reacting?
Seek to understand your partner’s frustrations. Many times your partner needs to know you care. Endorse his or her disappointment before dismissing it.
Yes, you may be the source of your partner’s grievance. But, endorsing his or her frustration — I get why you feel that way — doesn’t mean you’re required to abandon how you feel about the situation.
More importantly, your managed response will shift the energy in that moment — and ultimately, the energy of the relationship.
Express the positive feelings you have about your partner. When was the last time you told your partner how much you love his or her smile, intelligence, wit, calm nature, resourcefulness, financial dexterity, insightfulness, and jokes.
Does he or she know you enjoy traveling with them, eating ice cream and watching movies together, how they are patient with the kids, and how he or she respects your parents?
When negativity fills the space between two partners, expressing something positive doesn’t come natural. That being the case, breaking through the fog of negativity takes intentional effort from both of you.
Pay attention to how you handle conflict. Negativity feeds off of itself.
Be mindful of how you bring up difficult topics. Is your tone hostile? Are you expressing anger without intentionally being hurtful? Are you denying responsibility?
Are you being defensive? Are you silently withdrawing? Are you criticizing?
Recovering from arguments; and how you see your partner during conflict helps you push through the difficult times.