Friday, February 3, 2012


Have you ever had a fantastic day at work or at school?  Have you just experienced a great day at home with wonderful exchanges with your children?  In your mind you think:  "Wow!  What a great day!  All these wonderful things have happened today.  It couldn't get any better..."

Then the unthinkable happens.  Your blissful day is destroyed in a matter of seconds by a few simple words...  or the tone coming from another who is speaking to you...  It could be anything said, or how it was said or it could be what was not said...

For most of us the negatives in life are more salient than the positives.  You understand this in some very basic ways in life.  One critical negative comment from a family member or coworker can wipe out many other good things that have happened that day.  One negative interaction can wipe out the effect of five -- or even as many as twenty -- positive exchanges.  ACID BURNS!!!!

The best option is to never say anything negative.  As it is, we are all human and we are subject to our human nature.  Someone will be negative; you may be negative; your spouse may be negative it could be a friend... it could be any one.

What we do next when confronted with negativity will determine how well we maintain loving connections within our family units.  We should avoid some common destructive responses to negativity:

1.  Escalation
2.  Invalidation
3.  Negative interpretations
4.  Withdrawal and avoidance

Escalation occurs when partners respond back and forth negatively to each other, continually upping the ante so that conditions get worse and worse.  This sounds a lot like what young siblings do to get each other worked up...

Negative comments are hard to take back, and these reckless words do a lot to damage any sense of closeness and intimacy.  Forgiveness is possible and recommended; however it is better to prevent the nasty things from being said in the first place.

Sometimes negativity is represented by painful put-downs - attempts to invalidate another.  Invalidation is a pattern in which one partner subtly or directly puts down the thoughts, feelings, or character of the other. 

A safe relationship allows us to respect our partners individuality.  Each is able to own their feelings.  We can be comfortable in our own skin when we show mutual respect for each other's character.

We all want validation.  When I do something that I think is wonderful I often ask Victor what he thinks.  Is it as wonderful as I thought?  Now, if he doesn't see it the same way I did, it doesn't mean I am less of a person.  It just means he doesn't agree.  When he does see it the same way I am filled with little warm fuzzies.  :)

Now, I know there are a lot of you out there who will see the same thing or hear the same thing but will tell a different story...  Our perceptions of the same event may differ slightly or they may be considerably different.  What happens when our perception of something is worse than the cold hard truth?

Negative interpretations occur when one partner consistently believes that the motives of the other are more negative than is really the case.  This can be a very destructive, negative pattern in a relationship, and it will make any conflict or disagreement harder to deal with constructively.

My interactions with others are very "black and white".  I try to express myself or act exactly in accordance with my motives.  I will provide all the information, plus extra, to make sure that there is a complete understanding.  My father explained to me that this is a very foreign concept for most people.  They expect others to have hidden agendas or that there is something to read between the lines.

My husband only shares what is "necessary"; leaving out what I consider "valuable" information.  Now, I would say that Victor is a very private person and he expects others to accept what he offers.  It took some time for me to get to that understanding.  There was a time that I thought he was just "hiding" the truth from me.  I felt that his motives were less than honourable.

Is it possible for me to truly know the mind of my husband?  I am certain after many year's together I will be so connected to him that it is as if I can read his mind. 

Negative interpretations are a good example of mind reading.  You are mind reading when you assume you know what your partner is thinking or why he or she did something.

Over the years the biggest struggle I have had is avoiding conflict or negativity.  I have a tendancy to withdraw; avoid; and to play an emotional/mental game of hide and seek.  I would rather avoid conflict altogether - hoping that it will take care of itself.  Unfortunately, that is not the case.

Withdrawal and avoidance are different manifestations of a pattern in which one partner shows an unwilliness to get into or stay with important discussions.  Withdrawal can be as obvious as getting up and leaving the room or as subtle as "turning off" or "shutting down" during an agrument.  The withdrawer often tends to get quiet during an argument or may agree quickly to some suggestion just to end the conversation, with no real intention of following through.  Does this sound familiar?  It does to me... :)

Avoidance reflects the same reluctance to get into certain discussions, with more emphasis on the attmept to not let the conversation happen in the first place.  A person prone to avoidance would prefer that the topic not come up, and if it does, he or she may withdraw.

The best answer is to remembber that you are friends.  It is important to keep the lines of communication open.  Even stating that the topic makes you uncomfortable or that the issue is painful. 

John Gottman, a researcher and expert on relationships, recommends the importance of raising concerns gently.  He calls this a "gentle start-up."  He suggests that the gentle start-up is particularly important for wives when raising concerns with husbands and that it's particularly important for men to respond with attention and concern for what the wife says.  If you rise concerns directly but more gently with your partner, you are far more likely to have a good converation.  If you work to pay serious attention to concerns your partner raises, when he or she raises them, you are going to have better conversations.

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