• Dr. Bill Walker

Stop Making Negative Comments To Your Spouse. Try Something Better!

Nothing hurts like a negative comment from the mouth of our spouse.

These comments seem to go to the core of our inner self, where out self-esteem and self-concept reside.

Yet when our spouse makes positive comments, as much as we appreciate them, they just don’t seem to carry near as much power and influence as the negative ones.

Such is life – just like the best tasting foods tend to be the unhealthiest ones, the most powerful comments tend to be our negative criticisms of others – especially our mates.

There is a lesson here:

When you make negative comments to your spouse they hurt deeply. Therefore, work hard on greatly limiting your criticisms.

Some people seem to be very critical by nature. As one husband told me,

“I really don’t want to be a critical person but it seems like I have a laser vision that picks up on the smallest negative thing my wife does. Once I pick up on it my brain blows it up and makes it seem 10 times worse than it really is. Instead of ignoring the behavior I make a critical comment to my wife about it. This has been going on our entire marriage and I know her self-esteem has been beat down by my constant criticisms. This is not what I want.”

Being negative by nature does not change the fact:

Your Negative Comments Hurt Your Spouse Much More Than Your Positive Comments Help.

The unfortunate truth is that our memory holds on to and stores the negative words said to us by our spouse at a far greater capacity and efficiency than it does with the positive words spoken to us.

This reality has been verified by research at the University of Chicago. Dr. John Cacioppo and his research team discovered that our brain has a ‘negativity bias’. This means our brains respond to, and are more sensitive to, negative content and not as responsive to positive comments. This is why personal insults and criticisms hurt so deeply and tend to stay with us much longer than positive words said to us.

Applied to marriage, this means we remember and are more deeply affected by the negative words and comments our spouse says to us.

Beware the Giant Iceberg in Your Marriage!

Because we tend to hold on to our husband’s/wife’s negative comments, conversations and behaviors - over time these negatives can build up in our marriage like a giant iceberg. This iceberg continues to accumulate the ice of negative words. Eventually, all we are able to see is the giant iceberg of our spouse’s negative comments and behaviors in our marriage. This iceberg of negatives becomes so large it blocks our view of the positives our spouse contributes to the marriage.

The end result is that a spouse can come to believe that the marriage is all negative, and therefore there is no reason to continue the relationship. This often leads to a divorce - the ultimate failure of a marriage.

Mighty Marriage Action Steps

Changing your behavior of making frequent critical comments to your husband/wife is extremely important to the overall well-being of your marriage!

You MUST make a sincere effort to break your habit of negative comments.

You Can DO This! And your spouse will be a happier and your marriage stronger for it.

Consider these action steps:

<1>Make a commitment to STOP being so critical.

Understand that negative comments tear down the self-worth of your spouse. Is this really what you want for the person you married? Come up with more positive ways to talk about conflicts in your marriage.

<2>When you catch yourself making a critical comment to your spouse –

STOP – and apologize immediately.

You might say, “I’m sorry. That sounded very critical and I don’t want things I say to be so negative. I needed you to pay the power bill and it was not paid. Now we owe the $50.00 late fee. What can we do to avoid this happening again?”

<3>Ask Your Spouse To Help You.

“Honey, I need your help. Everytime I make a comment to you that sounds/feels really negative, please tell me. All I would ask is you don’t tell me in an angry way. Then, both of us will be talking while angry. I know this is asking a lot but I really do want to stop being so negative when I talk to you”.

<4>Know the Formula

One nice comment or act will NOT make up for a week of constant negative comments. Because of our brain’s negativity bias we have to work harder at overcoming the negative words we say to our spouse.

How much harder?

Many marriage researchers recommend a 2-1 ratio. IOWs: It takes 2 positive comments to neutralize 1 negative comment. Other marriage experts recommend an even higher ration: 5-1.

Regardless of the number our positive comments must at least be double what our negative words are. Better still – STOP making negative comments in the first place. Express your complaints in as non-attacking a way as possible. See this blog for some ideas.