You might be surprised to know that our brains are not so different than the brains of the first humans. This is especially true when it comes to “danger.”
Back in more primitive times, “danger” often meant something like a saber-toothed tiger or rushing rapids. Nowadays, it can be anything that causes us anxiety.
Maybe it’s a large bill that we didn’t anticipate. Maybe it’s a thunderstorm. Or perhaps… it’s an insult from a partner.
Where your brain is concerned, it doesn’t matter. When the brain senses that there is discomfort or negativity in the air, a signal goes off that tells us it’s time for “fight or flight.”
How might this work in practice?
Let’s say you and your partner are talking about maintenance around the house. You’re frustrated that they’re not pulling their weight, so you say they need to get off their butt and help more. “Stop being so lazy!”
Being called out by you may not be what you’d typically think of as a “danger,” but the negativity you’re throwing their way may make them feel anxious, causing their “fight or flight” response to kick in.
If they “fight,” they may become defensive or hurl some negativity back at you. If “flight” is the result, they might walk away from the situation, leaving the negativity lingering in the air.
Putting your brain (and your partner’s brain) through this stress doesn’t just make you feel unsafe – it can be exhausting. If it continues, eventually you will feel the foundation of your relationship start to crumble. And if your brain tells you it’s time for “flight” enough times, you just might listen to it and leave permanently.
The solution? Reduce negatively. How do you do that?
Balance Out the Positive and the Negative
For every one negative interaction that you experience with your partner, you should strive for five positive ones. Is this currently happening in your relationship?
This is not a question for you to answer on your own. The statements or behaviors that you might see as helpful or even positive may be interpreted by your partner as negative.
Talk to each other. Learn how your words and actions are being perceived and how you can change them to remove the negativity. Then talk to your partner about what they can do to be less negative.
Reflect on Your Needs
Dr. Harville Hendrix, the author of Getting the Love You Want, believes that moments of negativity toward your partner are equivalent to an “adult cry.” In other words, the reason you may display negative behaviors is that you want something but don’t know how to get it.
As you start to feel yourself becoming negative toward your partner, take a step back. What is it that you really need at the moment? Acceptance? Empathy? Intimacy?
Figure it out, then think about what you can do to meet that need. Going negative typically is almost never the answer.
It Starts With Your Thoughts
Negative behaviors don’t just appear out of nowhere. They begin with your thoughts. Apply the formula we mentioned earlier. For every one negative thought that goes through your mind about your partner, think five positive ones.
We dive deeper into this idea in our award-winning book, Seven Keys to Restore Your Connection and Make Your Love Last. Check it out!