Healthy marriages make healthy children
A continual dialogue is being played out in your mind. Sometimes you are not aware of this dialogue, but your thoughts can bring you happiness, sadness, anxiety, anger and/or fear. You decide if your thoughts will be positive or negative.
You also have a dialogue playing about your spouse (or loved ones). For example, when he/she surprises you with roses, your favorite dinner or an evening getaway you may think, “My spouse is so thoughtful and loving.” When he/she does something upsetting, you may think, “My spouse is not considerate.”
Throughout the day, spouses have numerous interactions that can be interpreted as negative, positive or neutral. Leading marital expert Dr. John Gottman espouses the importance of having a positive perception of your spouse. For example, if your husband does not take out the trash, you may allow yourself to buy into negative reasons, such as, “He never helps me,” which may lead you to feel irritable, angry and frustrated. On the other hand, if your husband does not take out the trash, you can decide to think something neutral or positive, such as, “He must have not heard me ask him” or “He is going to do it soon.”
If you tell yourself positive messages about your partner, then you will feel warmer toward him/her.
A couple, Rachel and Yehuda, recently started therapy. They explained that when something neutral happened, such as dinner wasn’t ready at 6 p.m. as planned, socks were left on the floor instead of being put in the laundry basket or the house was not as organized as desired, one of them would become upset. They recognized that their negative feelings were creating a lot of tension and stress in their marriage. I explained the following steps to this couple, helping them learn how to alter negative thought patterns:
1. Recognition: You need to recognize that you are telling yourself negative thoughts. You need to see how your negative thoughts are harmful and destructive to your relationship(s).
2. Desire: You need to want to change these thoughts.
3. Belief/Commitment: You need to believe you can control your thoughts and make a commitment that you are going to change them.
4. Triggers: You need to learn how to recognize what triggers the negative thoughts.
5. Replace: You need to replace the negative thoughts with neutral or positive thoughts.
6. Application: You need to apply these steps to your thoughts, and if necessary, make modifications to your plan. You may need to ask for support or seek counseling to make permanent changes to your thoughts.
After a few sessions of explaining and reviewing these steps and processing the barriers, Rachel and Yehuda learned how to focus on the positive and express their gratitude toward each other. In addition, we discussed how staying focused on the positive does not mean that they should sweep issues under the rug. (In other sessions, we discussed how to address “resolvable” and “unresolvable” issues.)
Today, they have more shalom, peace, in their marriage and are feeling much happier.
Negative thoughts do not have to control your life and ruin your relationships. Listen for the messages you tell yourself — about yourself and your spouse — and use the steps listed above to choose positive thoughts.
Lisa (Elisheva) Rabinowitz is a local licensed clinical professional counselor. All names have been changed to maintain confidentiality. Her suggestions are for couples in healthy relationships and exclude those in abusive relationships.