Marriage can be tough. As life with our partner changes and builds, it’s normal to have intermittent relationship fears or concerns, and even to think negative thoughts about your spouse. But somewhere along the way, many women got the message that they should keep their concerns to themselves. If they don't, they'll be a nag, turn their partner off, and maybe even risk losing the relationship altogether.
Unfortunately, when we keep our negative thoughts private, we run the risk of compounding the problem and ultimately jeopardizing the entire relationship.
One of my clients described her marriage of 30 years as a long string of silence about her concerns. She described five-hour car rides with no meaningful conversation. “There was too much to say, so where could we begin?" she said in our first session, "the gap just kept widening. And now it's over.” As this client hoped to find love again, she also realized that she had never experienced being able to honestly and openly talk with a partner about what was wrong.
Another of my clients described her intermittent outbursts at her husband about her unhappiness: "I keep everything together day in and day out, make sure the kids have everything they need, that everything is always done. I'm exhausted. And then, this Saturday night, he asked me where I wanted to go for dinner and I lost my sh*t! I started screaming about how he expects me to do everything, including deciding where to go for dinner.” Despite this disaster, the two went out to eat and never talked about the incident again. But, did it really just “blow over?”
In both of these examples, my clients hold private, yet persistent, negative thoughts about their spouse and marriage. Whether my client lives in New York, Connecticut, or Pennsylvania, whether she is dating, newly married, or has been married for 20 years, whether she has kids or not, the common theme is that women struggle to articulate their negative thoughts in a constructive way. All struggle to find the middle ground between stuffing their emotions or having their relationship begin to suffer.
But negative thoughts about your marriage and spouse can be a self-fulfilling prophecy if they aren’t addressed.
It’s true that many women grapple with negative thoughts about their spouse and keep them private, only to have them compound later in worse ways. However, if we can learn about the power of our thoughts, then we can also learn how to direct them in ways that foster a healthier, and happier union. When we are in tune with how important our inner dialogue about our marriage and spouse really is, we can constructively communicate our needs and wishes, thereby helping our marriage thrive. Keep reading for three ways your thoughts about your spouse become truths and how you can stop a cycle of inner resentment devoid of real-life results.
Reason 1: You are what you think.
By fixating on your relationship’s problems or your spouse’s flaws, you may be setting in motion a self-fulfilling prophecy. Our thoughts are so powerful that they guide how we act. They also strongly inform and guide how we experience our world. So if you’re thinking negative thoughts about your spouse, you’ll be looking for confirmation of your thoughts in everything he does and says. Since you’re subconsciously looking for examples to support your theories, when your spouse inevitably acts in ways that confirm your thoughts, whether you realize it or not YOU end up responding differently! This inner cycle leads to changes in outer behaviors that can ultimately chip away at the health of your relationship. What I caution here is that this stuff lurks and creeps: it’s not obvious nor is it intentional.
A Suggestion to Start: Be as hyper-vigilant with your own thoughts as you possibly can. Notice what you’re telling yourself – this becomes your truth. This is the only way you will catch your thoughts before they grow to strong or become more rampant. For example, if every day for a week you’ve noticed that your knee-jerk thought reaction to your husband going to the gym is, “see, he is selfish! It’s all about him!” take pause. This is where the work is. I can almost guarantee you your upset is not actually about your husband going to the gym, but rather is about other deep-seated beliefs you’re struggling with about your spouse, relationship dynamic, or even about how you feel able to spend your time. There is more hiding underneath this common type of thinking.
Reason 2: Your brain does a very good job at proving you right.
As humans we are hard-wired to try to predict what is going to happen in the future and act accordingly. This is what has allowed us to anticipate threats, adapt, and survive. This mechanism drives us to act in ways that respond to what we’re already anticipating and expecting. So, as I mentioned above, when we think negative thoughts about our spouse or our marriage, our brain ensures that we are primed to respond to that. We then often begin acting in ways that both expect destruction and also respond to the assumed destruction. It’s slightly different than the example above in that this behavior change is less reactive. Rather, it’s innate and causes us to self-protect. We may begin to turn away from our union, look outward, stop sharing or opening up to our partner as much, or even physically feel shut down. This is the brain’s way of ensuring we can survive what we’re perceiving as difficult or threatening.
A Suggestion to Start: Remember the force of your survival instincts! We’re no longer on the savannah dodging lions and ducking into rock formations with our spears… but sometimes, married life can make us feel and act like we are. When you begin to notice you’re physically or emotionally responding to a perceived threat (negative thoughts) by shutting down, distancing, or self-protecting, challenge yourself to push back against that current. In marriage, we’re not battling to survive. We’re in it together. Reach back out to your partner, while it may be uncomfortable or the least thing you’d like to do. Seek closeness in response to your desire to create distance. The only exception to this is if you are in an abusive relationship. In an abusive relationship, your partner can not and should not be entrusted in this same way. Seek professional help under any circumstances where you are unsure.
Reason 3: Your thoughts are actually trying to tell you something important, but you’re stuffing it, ignoring it, or praying for the best… and so this real and valid issue only continues.
Women are often extremely uncomfortable with confrontation, conflict, or even just plain using our voice to describe what it is that we need. Heck, most of us have trouble even identifying our needs in the first place. Needs? What needs? But the problem here is that persistent problems, whether real or perceived, don’t take care of themselves. I commonly work with women who share major concerns about their relationship, but struggle because they wish to ignore the signs. They know their relationship is not where it should be. But because they have hitched their star to their partner, the hope of what their partner will give them (stability, marriage, happiness, a family, and so on) silences their concerns. While your subconscious screams, your lips stay zipped. What you need to know is that you deserve a different outcome than staying unhappy and unfulfilled in an uncommunicative or disjointed relationship. And, that a different outcome IS possible.
A Suggestion to Start: Again, you are what you think. And your thoughts are telling you important messages. Rather than simply privately fixate on your concerns, pay attention to what your fearful or negative thoughts are telling you. Are they saying that you and your partner haven’t been spending enough time together and that you’re worried about the real reason why? That you aren’t talking about what you wish could be different, but rather are holding hope that someday it will change? That there’s a gap in your communication that needs to be worked on? Or that certain behaviors are troubling or even plain unacceptable? Discern whether it’s time to step into the discomfort and address it openly, honestly, and with the goal of seeking real solutions.
Fixating on negative thoughts about your partner or your marriage is like flushing a toilet…. It only leads you around and around in circles until you’re inevitably completely consumed. Instead, actively work with your partner to attend to your thoughts and trouble spots in the here and now – whether you are able to do so on your own or with the help of a trained professional.
Remember that marriage work, as with all life-work, is a practice. You might not be able to feel complete relief from your negative thoughts right away. It will take time to become conscious of and courageously tackle what’s been on your mind, but it is entirely possible to achieve a union that isn't left to the fates to withstand the test of time. While this blog post is only able to scratch the surface of the relationship work I do with my clients, I hope that I’ve helped you understand the power of your thoughts, how they inform the health and happiness of your marriage, and the ways that YOU can be empowered to change the course of your relationship.
Still feel like you’re guessing or going it alone? Reach out to me today to schedule your complimentary initial consultation.
Lauren L. Drago, MSEd, LMHC, LPC is the founder of Lauren Drago Therapy in Old Saybrook, CT and in greater CT, NY & PA. She specializes in working with smart, insightful and capable women to overcome stress, anxiety, loss of identity, self-limiting beliefs, perfectionism, marriage strain, and the pressure of "trying to do it all." Lauren has a passion for helping others to achieve the happy, fulfilling, productive, and meaningful life they deserve by changing how they experience and understand their world. She believes that every woman can and should live out her personal definition of her own best life. Follow Lauren on Facebook, and call (860) 339-6515 to schedule your free initial consultation.