Have you ever wished your husband were a mind reader? Okay, good. Us too.
It would be wonderful to live in a fairytale land where he knew what you needed done around the house (and did it!), or the exact thing you wanted for your birthday without having to spell it out for him—wouldn't it?
But alas, we don't.
And to be fair, we don't know and do exactly what he's thinking at all times either.
It seems so easy to focus what your partner didn't do vs. what they did. Sure, your husband may have done the dishes and vacuumed—but all you can think about is why did he cancel date night for an evening out with the guys?
In the stress of parenthood, these small frustrations can snowball into resentment, even when we don't want it to.
How do we steer our thinking from the negative to the positive?
We talked to the experts to find out why we do, and what we can change.
Why do we focus on the negative?
According to Dr. Terri Orbuch relationship expert and author of “5 Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage From Good to Great," part of the problem is how the human mind processes bad experiences in general: “Negative feelings are often stronger than the positive ones. They “carry more psychological weight than the desirable behaviors. People focus on what their partner didn't do, or the negative behaviors—for example, what he didn't give for your birthday—rather than on the positive behaviors."
Experts say there are also gender dynamics at play.
Manhattan sex therapist Dr. Stephen Snyder says he hears a lot from women who say they don't understand why their male partners don't notice the little things the same way that they do.
“It's irritating to most women that the men in their life don't notice little things, like clothes left on the floor. It makes them feel unloved—even if he's contributing mightily in other parts of the relationship."
Why is it that we focus on the dirty laundry instead of the acts of kindness?
Experts say it's because our brains are wired for survival.
LA-based couples therapist Mary Kay Cocharo, LMFT, explains, “When we are not getting our needs met in our primary relationship, we experience it as a lack of safety, or danger. Our 'old brain' (limbic system) responds by reacting."
“Some of us expand our energy when reactive. We fight for what we want and need: we get demanding, loud, critical or coercive. Some of us constrict our energy when we don't feel safe. We shut down, we get quiet, withdrawn, submissive," Cocharo notes.
She explains that part of this is natural.
“This is our brain's way to try to make sure we survive.
The problem is that whenever we are allowing our limbic brain to react, we are not using our more thoughtful, mature neocortex. This is the part of the brain where we remember our love for one another and focus on making the relationship work. This part of the brain literally gets hijacked in the face of danger."
So how do we avoid these behaviors altogether?
Here are 4 ways experts suggest that can help you on the good in your partner.
1. Be conscious
Cocharo explains, “A good relationship is a choice that we commit to daily. Knowing that negativity corrodes the safety of our partners, we must choose to replace criticism with gentle requests for change. Researcher John Gottman's found that couples who stay happily married have five positive interactions to each negative one. 5:1. When you think about that ratio, can you really afford to be critical?"
2. Have a reminder of the good
Orbuch suggests putting your thoughts on paper. She says, “Write a list of five things you love about your partner or his 'good' behaviors. Keep the list, and focus on those aspects of your partner or relationship. Put the list in your purse, bring it out when you find yourself getting negative/focusing on the bad."
3. Respect the space
Cocharo advises, “Between two people there is a space. It is their relational space and each person is 100% responsible for keeping it safe. When we're not conscious of the space, we pollute it. When we pay attention, we can sanctify it with kind words, loving behaviors and good communication. Children live in the space between their mother and father. Do you want your children to grow up in tense, conflicted, polluted space?"
Survey says: Of course not! So be aware of what you're doing to fill the space your family occupies in this world.
4. Flip the negative to a positive
Orbuch suggests, “By consciously changing how you view your relationship, you'll be able to 'flip the switch' on negative emotions so they become neutral and less damaging. Almost any negative thought can be flipped. You need to remind yourself to do that. Stop, think, flip negative!"
Here's how to do it: “You would consciously (and with practice) take the resentment-laden thought: 'He didn't get me a gift for my birthday' and 'flip it' to a neutral or positive one: 'He spent time with me. He gave me flowers.'"
You two crazy kids already fell in love. Here's to using these techniques to stay in love along the way. ?