Improve your love life with this exclusive excerpt from Harville Hendrix.
WHAT IS NEGATIVITY?
I WANT TO STOP for a moment and clarify what I mean by negativity. Negativity is any thought, word, or deed that tells your partner: “You’re not okay when you think what you think or act the way that you act.” In essence, you are rejecting your partner’s “otherness.” We feel the need to negate our partners when they do or say something that makes us uncomfortable. Usually, they are just being themselves. But from our point of view, they are threatening an image that we have of them, or they are failing to meet an unspoken need.
Typically, negativity makes its first appearance in a love relationship as denial. “I can’t believe you did that!” “You never said anything like that before!” “You can’t really mean that.” “You’re not that kind of person.” The fact that your partner is a separate individual with wishes and needs different from yours is starting to dawn on you, and you feel threatened. Your denial is a desperate ploy to hold on to your illusions. “Say it’s not so!”
When your partner continues to depart from your projected image, the tendency is to bring out the big guns, one by one. Your arsenal includes shame, blame, criticism, invasiveness, avoidance, and, finally, blanket condemnation. First you shame. “How do you think that feels?!” “You ought to be ashamed by the way you treated my friend.” In essence, you are trying to make your partner feel guilty for being who he or she is.
Then you blame. “You were late, and that made me really upset. That’s why I haven’t been talking to you.” “If you hadn’t been so angry, we would have been able to settle the matter in very little time.” When you blame, you put all the burden for your frustrations on your partner.
Next, you begin to criticize your partner’s character traits in addition to unacceptable behaviors. “You are so insensitive.” “You always think about yourself first.” “You are untrustworthy.” You are attempting to make your partner not only the source of all your frustration but a “bad” person as well.
A more subtle ploy is to invade your partner’s psyche and act as if you had x-ray vision. “That is not what you really think.” “The reason you’re so crabby is that you are obsessing too much about work.” “If you’ll just listen to me, I’ll tell you what you need to do.”
The final weapon is absolutism. “You never listen to me!” “You always leave the hard work for me.” “That’s just the way you are.” “Every time I make a simple suggestion, you have a big fit.”
It’s no wonder that our partners don’t want to make love, feel depressed, stay late at work, drink too much, or stay up late by themselves. Being with us is not a safe place to be. They experience being chopped up into little pieces, dissected, and rejected. This is a form of emotional annihilation. At the base level, it expresses contempt. No one can be healed or grow in such a toxic environment. To get the love we want, we need to eliminate negativity in ALL its forms.
There’s another good reason to stop negativity: the negativity that we express towards our partners comes back like a boomerang and affects us as well. That’s because the old brain does not know whether the negativity is being directed outwards or inwards. This theory has been backed up by research. For example, studies show that when one person yells at another, the person being yelled at produces more of the stress hormone cortisol. That’s to be expected. But, surprisingly, the same increase in cortisol is seen in the angry person as well. One could say that any negativity that we direct toward others is a form of self-abuse.