Date Archives

December 2017

How to Survive Marriage (or any relationship) With a Negative Person

“Some people are in such utter darkness that they will burn you just to see a light. Try not to take it personally.”
― Kamand Kojouri

Living with a person who is chronically negative is like tying a cement block to your foot and jumping into the middle of the ocean. You take your last breath and hope you will be rescued before you drown.

Photo by Zen Photographer on Unsplash

I am a positive person. I don’t see things as “all or nothing,” and I don’t find potential problems in every situation. I’m easy going and have learned that most things smooth themselves out just fine with minimal or no involvement from me. There isn’t much I consider a big deal, and I just generally don’t get upset about things that may or may not happen. Borrowing trouble is a waste of my good mood. I’ll adjust if I need to.

My husband is nightmarishly negative. He sees a potential downside to every single situation. If I give him good news, he will respond with “yea but…” and proceed to tell me all the reasons why my news isn’t so good after all. For example, my daughter who recently graduated high-school thought living at home binge-watching Netflix was what you did when you didn’t have to go to school every day.

For months, we were on her about finding a job. One day she came home excited and told us she was going to be working at Starbucks. My first response was “That’s great! Good for you.” Can you guess my husband’s first words? “Starbucks? You aren’t going to like working there. It’s busy and you have to be going all the time. You won’t be able to keep up or deal with pissed off customers.” I just stared at him. Really? He had fought with her repeatedly about not working, she gets a job and this is his response?

That is only one example of a lifetime of experience I could draw from. It’s chronic and disheartening to be around someone who sucks the joy out of everything you say, think, or do. When we were first married I seriously thought I could handle it. I was a strong person and he would change. He didn’t. I did. I suffered terribly and eventually had a breakdown. If you told me that would happen on our wedding day, I would not have believed you.

The ultimate pessimist. Is it biological?

Recent studies, like the one that appears in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, provides biological evidence that there are, in fact, positive and negative thinkers in the world.
From an evolutionary standpoint, it makes sense because negative people are always on the lookout for danger and bad news. This is the part of the brain that mankind relied on to keep them from getting eaten by a tiger or killed by a rival tribe.

The study, as reported by Science Daily, reviewed brain scans of participants who were asked to view graphic images and put a positive spin on them. Those who were able to twist the image into a positive outcome had much less brain activity than those who could not find a positive outcome. According to lead investigator and assistant professor of psychology, Jason Moser, these findings are indicative of the way negative thinkers approach difficult situations.

Telling my husband to think positively wouldn’t (and didn’t) work. The study suggests using a different approach in which you ask the person to think about the problem in a different way using different strategies.

Although negative thinkers could practice positive thinking, Moser suspects “it would take a lot of time and effort to even start to make a difference.”

I can say from painful, personal experience, he is absolutely right.
Negative people can be harmful to your health

It would be great if. when I am in a good mood, I could be around my husband and rather than end up feeling down, I instead lifted his mood up. Sadly, it does not work that way.

According to a post on Psychology Today (Andrew Newberg, 2012), neuroscience has discovered that the effects of negativity can actually impact the physical structure of the brain. So, the words other people say to you and the actions they take can change the structure of your brain.

Photo by Finn Hackshaw on Unsplash

If that isn’t bad enough, your brain then stores the memory of that interaction which makes it get into its protective “fight or flight” mode before your next interaction even begins.

For years, when I had to begin a conversation with my husband about anything, I did so with a sense of dread. I tried to think of the best way to talk to him and I’d practice responses to what I thought he would say. It never helped. I still became defensive and angry, the conversation still went bad, and I still walked away thinking, “What the hell happened?”

Feeling tired lately? Look at the people around you. I was tired all the time. Negative people are energy hogs. They suck out all your energy. They are not capable of producing their own positive energy and so they absorb yours like a sponge. Then, they complain because you are always tired. Feeling tired and run-down is bad for your immune system. It leaves you susceptible to all kinds of sicknesses. Of course, guess what happens if you get sick? Exactly. They complain because you are always sick.

So now what? Learning to live with a buzz-kill.

The number one approach to effectively deal with the negative input coming from the other person is to prevent it. That means you reduce or eliminate the amount of time you spend around them. Clearly, if your intent is to keep your relationship together, that is not helpful.
Pointing out the negativity and the effect it has on you is ineffective. Mostly, because they do not believe their attitude or feelings can affect you. They honestly think you are saying it does because you want to feel that way. It is useless to try to explain their negative attitude makes everyone else’s life miserable.

You can still practice prevention by helping them practice positive thoughts when they say negative things. Negative people are not necessarily angry and mean, they are just unable to think positive thoughts. I know, it sounds entirely too simplistic. If you can encourage a positive comment for every negative one, they slowly come to realize their view is a bit skewed. It is much easier to boost them up when they haven’t brought you down.

Sometimes, to save yourself, you will have to remove yourself from the situation. You cannot control what they think, say, or do. You can want it to be different but you cannot change their reality.

When my husband got into his “dark mode,” I began telling him that if he couldn’t find something positive to say, about anything, he would have to stop talking or I would have to leave the room. It didn’t help at all until I actually began walking away while he was still talking.

In the end

What I went through with him left me feeling angry, abused, and resentful. I spent 6 days in a behavioral facility because I had become so tired and depressed that I didn’t bother getting out of bed. It was the best 6 days of my married life. It was enough time to realize I still had a little spark inside me and if I fanned it just right, I was still capable of being happy.

I knew I could not live the way I had been living. I loved my husband, but I loved myself too and I would not sacrifice another day of my happiness for him. I learned how to protect my happiness and fostered a sense of peace within myself while at the same time making clear boundaries of what was acceptable behavior.

By demonstrating confidence, being consistent with my behavior, and not all

Photo by Josh Felise on Unsplash

owing myself to take on his negativity, my life became better.

 

None of this would have worked if he didn’t love me. If he was not interested in protecting our marriage, he would not have made the effort to change. His outlook on the world has improved significantly. It’s not great but it is better. With him making that (continued) effort, and me learning to set clear boundaries to protect my own happiness, we have found a place where we are both happier.

References
Andrew Newberg, M. a. (2012, August 01). The most dangerous word in the world. Retrieved from Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/words-can-change-your-brain/201208/the-most-dangerous-word-in-the-world

Michigan State University. (2014, April 2). Biological evidence of positive and negative people in the world. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 1, 2017 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/04/140402100052.htm
Journal Reference:
Jason S. Moser, Rachel Hartwig, Tim P. Moran, Alexander A. Jendrusina, Ethan Kross. Neural markers of positive reappraisal and their associations with trait reappraisal and worry.. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 2014; 123 (1): 91 DOI: 10.1037/a0035817

You want to reduce your stress level? Try tying the knot; Study finds married people have less stress

Seldom do I hear good things about being married. The divorce rate in America is somewhere between 40 and 50 percent, which means that almost half the married population is stressed out and miserable. But then it also means that the other half of the population lives in less stressful, happy marriages. 

Why don’t we hear about the laid-back happily married half? Because we spend our time complaining about what we don’t like to anyone who will listen. It’s human nature. The things that bother us stay predominately on our mind and beg to be shared. Once the frustrations are voiced and discussed, there is seldom time for happy talk. So, I was pleasantly surprised when I came across this article talking about the healthy aspects of marriage.

Personally, I have found marriage to be the most difficult job I have ever had. A lasting marriage is no easy feat and it doesn’t just happen. There are years of giving and giving followed by compromises and frustrations. It takes the commitment of both people to keep the bond intact.

I am 22 years into my marriage and as hard as it has been, it has also been good. When things are not going well either in my own in endeavors or in our marriage, I know that when all is said and done my husband will be standing there at the end of the road and we will move forward together. He may not stand there smiling, but he’s there. Now, it appears that our commitment to the marriage may keep us healthier than our divorce or unmarried counterparts.

Stress

Stress, especially prolonged stress, is associated with a higher level of cortisol. High levels of cortisol interfere with the body’s ability to regulate inflammation and thus the development of psychological and physical ailments arise in response.

Elevated cortisol levels impact the body in other ways as well. The release of cortisol into the body increases sugars into the bloodstream and slows the function of nonessential body

functions. This is important because in a fight or flight situation you would not want to suddenly have an overwhelming desire for a sandwich or the urge to use the bathroom.

Normally, once the threat has passed the cortisol levels return to normal. However, if you are in a constant state of stress, the release of this hormone stays elevated.  Long-term exposure to high levels of cortisol can make your body feel like the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz, before he got oiled up.

This constant state of stress puts you at risk for several health problems including:

  • Digestive problems
  • Weight gain
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Sleep disorders
  • Headaches
  • Heart disease
  • Cognitive impairments/impaired memory

If these aren’t enough reasons to act against life’s stressors, then also consider your emotional well-being. Living in a state of frustration and depression seriously lowers quality of life which in turn causes more stress and more unhappiness and more sickness.

Learn healthy ways to control the stress that arises in your life. You can start by putting a smile on your face. Doing so sends signals to your brain that can improve your mood.

Apparently, another thing you can do is get married.

It’s not all bad after all

According to the article in Science Daily, a study conducted by Carnegie Mellon University offers the “first biological evidence” that marriage impacts health. Researchers discovered that married people had lower levels of cortisol, (stress hormone) than people who had never married or had been previously married.

The researchers collected saliva samples over a three-day period from 572 healthy adults between ages 21-55. The cortisone levels in the saliva were tested at different times during each 24-hour period.

What they found was that married participants had lower cortisol levels than the previously married and never married people over the three-day period. Cortisol levels change throughout the day with the peak time being when you wake then declining as the day goes on.  When the groups were compared, married people’s stress hormone declined at a faster rate. Lower cortisol levels, as well as a faster decline of cortisol, has been associated with less heart disease, less physical pain and longer survival among cancer patients.

If you’re happy and you know it…

Now, before anyone says, “what about this or that…” I realize that some people do not get married for whatever reason and live happy satisfying lives. I also know that marriages exist that are abusive and dangerous and associated with an exorbitant amount of stress. Those are opposite sides of the spectrum and this study looked straight down the middle. Take it for what it’s worth.

We all travel different paths as we head down the road to happiness. If you are happy being single, enjoy it. If you dove into matrimony with the love of your life, embrace it. If you are considering saying “I do,” go ahead and do it. It looks like it just might be better for your health.

 

Reference:

  1. Carnegie Mellon University. (2017, February 13). Married people have lower levels of stress hormone. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 21, 2017 from sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/02/170213131232.htm

Journal Reference:

  1. Brian Chin, Michael L.M. Murphy, Denise Janicki-Deverts, Sheldon Cohen. Marital status as a predictor of diurnal salivary cortisol levels and slopes in a community sample of healthy adults. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 2017; 78: 68 DOI: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2017.01.016