Recently, a question on overcoming the negative thinking of a spouse came in from one of our clients.
“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” – Shakespeare, Hamlet
Email Subject: My husband
He is clever and hardworking, gifted in many ways. He is also a dutiful dad, a generous husband, AND he shares our collective goals.
Thing is: the guy has a “poverty mindset.” It’s not extreme, but it shadows us.
He has had it since he left his job and started working as an independent contractor. He worries about the security of things and not having enough. Sure, things were tough for years, but we are comfortable today in wonderful, practical ways, thanks to the Universe. And, we’re also able to aspire to live in an ideal version of our lives and do more for the world, again, thanks to the Universe. I told my husband our best days are ahead.
Here are examples of his negative phrasing:
“I have to work so much harder. Easier for others.” “My children have little drive.” “My partners underestimated how long it would take to complete the proposal.”
He is super smart, currently doing promising projects, and has a lot of good things ahead of him. The possibilities are very promising, even if things are not going as seamlessly as he desires. One has to have a steady belief. I certainly do.
Here are my ideas for a solution:
A) I took the recommendation of the book by Gary Chapman, “Description
The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate“ I will talk him through this.
B) While I am fully committed to our marriage, why don’t I work with the Universe on my own? Does this make sense? Is this possible if one is in a partnership?
I would love your thoughts. 🙂 Stay well and happy.
Dr. Hurtado-Palomo’s reply:
The question boils down to: What do you do if your partner is trapped in negative thinking? How can you break their cycle of negativity and avoid getting drawn into it yourself?
It is easy to get caught in a downward spiral of negativity if you are surrounded by negative thinkers, especially if you live with the person! Thankfully, there are some simple techniques based in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) that are very effective at reversing a negative mindset. This technique is described in Dr. Jessamy Hibberd and Jo Usmar’s book, This Book Will Make You Happy. You can use it to turn around a spouse or family member’s negative thinking. The main idea is to challenge negative thinking. Don’t accept it as truth and don’t let your partner get away with it either. At the same time, you don’t want to be critical. It is very tempting to snap back with a negative comment such as, “Don’t be such a downer!” This only makes things worse. You’ll have to combat negativity with positivity to succeed.
Let’s tackle your husband’s negative thinking head on and see how you might respond to him.
Husband: “I have to work so much harder. It is easier for others.”
Wife: “That’s true, you are a hard worker and I’ve always admired your work ethic.” [Notice that you start by agreeing with him so as not to create conflict). “However, others also work extremely hard. So and So gets up at 6 am every morning to be at work before everyone else and spends most weekends working. Compared to him you have a much better work-life balance and I’m glad of it.” [Notice how you’ve challenged his negative thoughts and complimented him at the same time.]
Husband: “My children have little drive.”
Is that true? If so and you agree, you could ask any one of these questions:
Wife: “Does it matter? What’s the worst that can happen?”
If not true, and your children do have drive:
Wife: “What makes you say that?”
Or, “This isn’t true because Susanna worked really hard on her chemistry project. She has drive when she is motivated. She just needs a good teacher to inspire her.”
Husband: “My partners underestimated how long it would take to complete the proposal.”
Is that true?
Wife: “Almost all projects take two to three times longer than people expect and cost two to three times as much so it looks like your partners are pretty normal.”
“What’s the worst that can happen as a result?”
“What’s the most likely outcome now?”
“What can you do about it?”
These are a few examples of how you can start to turn negative comments and thinking on its head, while staying positive yourself.
The trick is to challenge his negative thinking without being critical yourself. Avoid saying things such as, “Why do you always have to be such a downer? Or “Why can’t you be more positive?”
The goal is to make your partner feel good about himself and help him look on the bright side of life. The good news is that you can do this in a few weeks.
The second critical step is to work on fulfilling your husband’s need for security. The need for security can be both a physical and an emotional need. Most everyone needs to feel physically safe, but some people also need to feel safe emotionally. You mention that ever since he started consulting work, he feels insecure. Consultants often work on variable income. It can take years to start to trust that you can create and generate sufficient income as a consultant, especially if you’re used to getting a steady pay check from a company. I know that it took me about five years as a life coach owning my own business before I really started to trust that I’d continue to make a living as a coach.
The solution is to find ways to make him feel more secure. Most consultants feel more secure if they have a really large cash reserve in the bank. They feel safe knowing that they can weather some really slow periods or dry spells. I would suggest a minimum of one, preferably two, year’s expenses in a savings account. This might give him the feeling of security he currently lacks. But it would also be worth having a conversation with him about what other things would make him feel more secure.
Some people worry about physical security and want burglar alarms or locked gates. Others need a chunk of money in the bank. Others need to know they can defend themselves and take a class in self-defense or karate. Some like to have a stockpile of canned food and water in the basement or garage to feel secure. Take his need seriously and take steps to make him feel more secure. It might help to remind him, “Hey, you’ve been earning a reliable income as a consultant now for five years. You have proven you can do it. You are doing better now than ever. Congratulations!”
Finally, you can program your own brain and others who share the same visual field by posting an image of the object or thing you’d like to attract. If it is your ideal home, you might post a photograph, an architect’s drawing or images cut out from magazines that represent the ideal you want. Post this on the bathroom mirror or on your fridge so that you both see it every day. It will soon become accepted that this is the goal.
If you do catch yourself getting caught in a cycle of negative thinking, stop and say, “Cancel, cancel.” Then spend a minute visualizing the thing you do want to have happen