Dealing with relationship stress: Part 2 – Stop negative thinking

Dealing with relationship stress- Part 2 - Stop negative thinking

Negative thinking is to be expected

Negative thinking is a standard feature of the mind – no mind comes without it. On average your mind will think four times more negative thoughts than positive. This makes sense as a survival tool. It is your mind’s job to scan for danger and ensure you belong so that you can stay alive. While it makes sense why this phenomenon happens, you still need a strategy to reduce or even stop negative thinking, so you don’t place more stress on yourself and your relationships.

All problems have 2 components

Every time you experience relationship stress, whether it is due to conflict or outside stressors there will be two things happening. Number 1 is the problem itself and number 2 is your thinking in response to the problem. For example, you may be experiencing relationship stress because you think the distribution of labour in your household is unfair. The actual problem is there is a question about distribution of responsibility. This is an issue which needs to be explored for accuracy and dealt with appropriately to ensure the ongoing health of the relationship. This can be as simple as having a conversation to determine how you each contribute and might reallocate responsibilities in a balanced way. What adds suffering to the problem is the negative thinking attached to it.

Question negative thinking

Negative thinking is mostly made up of judgements, assumptions, and crystal ball gazing based on past experiences and projected future experiences. Very helpful when you must make snap decisions in the face of danger, but not so great when you are dealing with loved ones. To use the previous example, if you are dealing with an uneven distribution of household responsibilities you will have a series of thoughts which attribute meaning to this problem. For instance, you might make it mean that they don’t care enough about you to help, or they are disrespecting you. These things may or may not be true, but it is important to identify the meaning you are attributing to the problem, so you don’t jump to the wrong conclusions and create more relationship strain.

Identify the problem AND the negative thinking

When you need to address an issue, take time to clearly identify the problem in the most objective way you can. Park the emotional component at this stage. (You might need an objective third party if you are at a stalemate.) Next, identify the meaning you are making of the problem and note any negative thinking. If you have attributed a negative meaning there will usually be a strong emotional response. Never treat negative thinking as the complete truth. It may simply be an old story that you are telling yourself based on past experience. It pays to note your negative thinking and ask yourself two things; Is there room for you to be wrong on this? and, is there a more positive way to perceive the situation?

Manage your self-talk

Negative thinking is a part of your self-talk. Self-talk is that voice inside your head that sounds like your own voice but often takes on qualities from your parents or significant others. Self-talk is very repetitive. Your own mini-me can be your biggest cheerleader or your harshest critic. Unfortunately, the latter is most often the case, and we can be insanely hard on ourselves – particularly when we are under relationship stress. Some of the things you say to yourself you would never dream of saying to anyone else (at least not out loud!). It can be hard to recognize and question your self-talk because it replays so often it feels like the truth. But if you don’t question it, you will respond to your habitual thoughts with habitual feelings and habitual behaviours (learn more).

Consider the following thought, “I’m hopeless at difficult conversations.” Program this type of thinking into anyone and, unless they can question and counter it, they will respond with feelings of dejection, sadness, or anxiety. It’s obvious the behaviour that follows these kinds of feelings is not going to be helpful. You might not even try to have a conversation about the chores and spiral into negativity or shut down. However, if you can recognize that the negative thinking may not be true and practice thinking something more helpful, like “I’ll just have the conversation and do the best I can.”

Practice:

  • When you are experiencing relationship stress, stop and observe what you are saying to yourself about it.
  • This is your self-talk and your practice is to notice it rather than unconsciously acting upon it.
  • Your job is not to assess whether it is right or wrong but simply to label it as helpful or unhelpful.
  • If it’s helpful – keep it.
  • If it’s unhelpful, consider a more helpful statement that you could tell yourself instead (something encouraging).
  • Then practice, and practice some more.

This is part 2 of a 5 part series on Dealing with relationship stress will help you to:

If you’re curious about what your conflict style is, tune in next time for Part 3 – Understand conflict styles

Relationship red flags (and their antidotes)

Relationship red flags (and their antidotes)

Most of us are familiar with the term “red flags” and everyone has experienced them somewhere in their relationship history. Red flags are issues that signal problems in relationships which, left unaddressed, will eventually lead to relationship breakdown. Don’t get caught unaware…

Use this free guide to identify red flags & what to do about them.

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