How to Respond If Your Partner Talks Negatively about Themselves

Everyone gets down on themselves sometimes. Maybe your partner complains about their looks. Or blames their lack of success at work on themselves.

It can be uncomfortable hearing your partner speak about themselves in a negative way. Often, you might not know what you should say or do. What if you sound fake or insincere? What if you make things worse?

This is especially true if your significant other wasn’t specifically asking for your thoughts. Do you have a right to just jump in?

Short answer: yes. You absolutely do. And you should!

Of course, the bigger question is what you should do.

The Different Ways You Can Respond to a Partner’s Negative Self-Talk

Let’s try something specific. Imagine your partner starts talking about how they’re such a failure. How they’ve never achieved anything. And they’re just getting older with nothing to show for it.

There are a number of possible ways that you might respond to this.

Let’s hit the worst way first…

Don’t respond at all

Yes, that’s right. Simply ignoring their negative self-talk is the absolute worst thing you can do. Why? A couple of reasons.

One, they may feel like your silence is your way of agreeing. You see them in this negative way, too, you just don’t want to say it. Two, they may feel invisible. They’re reaching out with something that should elicit a response and getting nothing. 

Talk about feeling disconnected.

Agree with them

Wait a minute – ignoring them is worse than agreeing? How?

Let’s be clear. If they say something negative about themselves and you tell them they’re right, it’s not good. This will likely make them feel worse since you are confirming their fears.

However, it’s better than just ignoring them because at least agreement has the chance to start a conversation. To work towards improvement and offer solutions.

There are numerous better ways to respond though. 

Commiserating

One way to show support when your spouse is engaging in negative self-talk is to share your own fears about yourself as they relate to their current reason for negativity.

For example:

SPOUSE: “I can’t do anything right!”

YOU: “I felt like that last week when I forgot to pick Cary up from school.”

This reminds them that they’re not alone and that their current feelings are likely based on a specific incident that will pass. 

Reassuring

Another support tactic is to reassure them — in essence, to say they’re wrong.

For example:

SPOUSE: “I can’t look at myself in the mirror anymore. Pretty soon, you’re going to trade me in for a younger model.”

YOU: “You’re crazy. You look better to me now than the day we first met.”

Challenging common notions

The last response works better in some situations than others. But it can be powerful when used well. Basically, it involves you calling into question the societal constructs that led to your partner’s negative thinking.

For example:

SPOUSE: “I’m a failure. Two degrees and I never used either of them. We’re barely scraping by.”

YOU: “A failure? You’ve helped so many people by volunteering. You think they would have been helped if you were working some bigshot job? Money isn’t everything.”

Obviously, how you respond will depend upon the specific situation. But hopefully, these examples give you some ideas on different ways that you might answer negative self-talk the next time it rears its ugly head.

Still struggling? Reach out to Oregon relationship counselors Tim Higdon and Norene Gronsiewski to learn more ways to communicate effectively and support one another.