I’m always amused by where and how I find inspiration.
Does the same happen to you?
I was all prepared this month to write what I hoped would be a brilliant, insightful look at how to survive the upcoming holiday season.
But as I did my research, mediated, prayed and pondered on the topic—everything seemed to fall short of what I was looking for.
Then in a true twist of happenstance (if you believe that sort of thing), I came across a book on my shelf that I’d forgotten I had bought about marriages and relationships. Flipping it through, I stumbled across this quote,
“Looking for the gifts is an invaluable skill in a world in which we can’t control other people’s behavior.” — Arielle Ford, Wabi Sabi Love.
Invariably true. However, it seems to me that over time, couples who fight get so good at finding the flaws and the faults, that they get out of practice in finding or at least not casually dismissing the good.
This phenomenon of negative thinking isn’t limited to just marriage or personal relationships, though. In fact some people use negative thinking styles to filter some, most or even ALL of their interactions. As you can imagine, that doesn’t make for a very happy individual, and it certainly doesn’t help in maintaining the warmth of a marriage.
Combating negative or false thinking styles is the primary goal of one of the most researched, supportive and popular forms of therapy today— Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT).
Simply stated, the idea behind CBT is that if we can change the way we think about ourselves and the world, we can change our behavior to better serve us.
In marriage, if we change change the lens through which we view our relationship, ourselves as one-half of that relationship and our spouses, we might be able to better advocate for those aspects as well.
So what I’ve prepared for you today are 9 Common Unhelpful Thinking Styles, put in the context of marriage.
Now, while the examples relating to marriage are of my own devise (unless otherwise stated), the Thinking Styles themselves are far from E.J. originals— in fact they’re so widely accepted that they’re on worksheets all over the internet for download and further study.
Of course, like so many other concepts in mental health and therapy, these thinking styles are not necessary distinct in real life— and often you’ll see behavior and communication that reflects several of these unhelpful thinking styles converging.
Put It To Work
The list is pretty lengthy, so before you dive in, I want you to be thinking about the following before you even start:
1. After you read the explanations below, take stock of some of your recent negative interactions or thoughts about your spouse and/or your relationship.
2. Which negative thinking styles do you find yourself using more often than others?
3. What do you think would change in your relationship if your were able to shift the way you viewed your spouse and your marriage to see the “gifts” (as Arielle Ford put it)?
Okay now you’re ready—-
Negative Mental Filter
You can spot a negative mental filter in a relationship when it becomes abundantly clear that no matter what the person tries to do or say, the other person takes offense or find something negative in it. Even compliments or intended helpful gestures can turn into grounds for icy verbal exchanges.
“You did the laundry? Why? So you could rub it in my face how awful a homemaker I am?!”
Jumping to Conclusions
Jumping to conclusions can be similar to the negative mental filter, as the conclusions we jump to in relationship are often negative. Sometimes, however, we can set ourselves up for disappointment by jumping to lofty “fantasy-like” conclusions as well. Since the holidays are right around the corner, the first example that comes to mind of these lofty conclusions that can lead to disappointment may revolve around gift giving.
Gifting giving can be a very stressful activity for the couple experiencing a rough patch because the quality or the “fit” of the gift might carry some extra weight.
Buying the perfect gift might be seen as “He/She feels guilty about something and is trying to cover it up.”
Buying a not-so-perfect gift may be received as , “She/He doesn’t love me enough to even try.”
I’m sure it’s fairly easy to see why rigid black-or-white/all-or-nothing thinking could be an issue when relationships inevitably are composed of a thousand shades of grey and perpetually moving targets. The idea of “You’re either with me or against me” is at best juvenile and at worst, toxic to the health of a relationship.
I’ve personally witnessed encounters where folks were so committed to this type of thinking that the conversation sounded something like, “Unless s/he agrees to all of these terms, our relationship is over.” Thank God this didn’t occur in the context of a therapy session because I’m pretty sure the floor vibrated when my jaw it hit. Relationships are about partnership, and partnership inherently comes with an element of compromise.
This is your spouse, not your servant.
This is your spouse, not your master.
You know what I love? When people “own” their personal baggage. Personal responsibility is a beautiful thing. You know what I don’t love? When people take personal ownership over baggage that isn’t theirs.
But of course you want to help the people you love, right? I get that. And I even value that. But there’s a big difference between helping someone work on their stuff, and taking it on as your own personal project.
What’s the difference?
Simply stated, if you feel like you’re working harder at someone’s goals than the actual person with the problem, then you’re doing it wrong… and you’re potentially enabling them to continue. Why should they work on their stuff when you’re so willing to do it for them? But that’s a whole separate article.
Quick and easy: On the crisis scale of your life, everything is a 10. Everything. There is no little misunderstanding or mistake. Nope. In your world and in your marriage, each bump in the road looks and feels like Mount Everest.
With overgeneralization, much like All-or-Nothing thinking… phrases like, “Always” and “Never” make liberal appearances— often in our descriptions of our partners’ not-so-fantastic qualities.
“I do everything myself around here…”
“He never pays the bills on time.”
Granted there are certain things that I’m sure our respective spouses may never do, or may always do… however, when you find yourself using such “absolutes” in marriage— it’s prudent to take a moment or two to actually assess the situation and see if it really is as consistent a pattern as it feels.
Speaking of feelings…
Just because it FEELS true, doesn’t mean it actually IS true. Feelings are fantastic. And helping clients tap into their feelings is one of my favorite therapeutic endeavors. Feelings tell us a great deal about ourselves and the way we view and experience the world around us. What feelings do not do is tell us about objective reality.
Just because I feel like my husband doesn’t love me (for example), doesn’t actually mean that he does not love me. All it means is that in that particular moment, what is authentic and true for me is that I’m feeling unloved.
And before we stray too far from Overgeneralizing, let’s talk about an insidious byproduct that often comes from over-generalization: Labeling.
Labeling is the quintessential over-generalization because it seeks to “categorize” someone’s behaviors or characteristics in a short, meaningful word or phrase. I will let you use your imagination for the labels, because often they’re not suitable for polite conversation. You can start with your general cuss words, and use your imagination for the rest…
And just the same as with negative self-talk, the phrases we repeat over and over again about our partners/spouses, can take on ‘legitimacy’ in our minds so that we come to view them in terms of those labels. Call your spouse a worthless loser long enough, and you’ll start to believe it (see 1. Negative Mental Filter)
Should-ing and Must-ing
Remember when you thought they “Honey-Do” List was a cute idea? Honey, can you do this? Honey, can you take care of that? Lets face it, having a second pair of hands running a household or a life for that matter can be really convenient. However, I hate the idea that having a honey-do list means that my husband (as is the case in my world) would have a never ending list of demands flowing from my lips, or onto a list.
I remember when I was younger being in a relationship where my partner/boyfriend at the time believed that I should make dinner, or it was my duty to clean and fold laundry. Duty?
Now that’s not to say that we can’t ask our spouses for help, or that we can’t have expectations— but again… lets include our spouses in that decision-making and prioritizing, no?