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Breaking the Cycle: How to Stop Being Negative in Your Relationship

Many of us have been there.

You bring up an issue with your partner, and you feel attacked by their response. You get defensive and return fire—only for them to do the same. It’s a battle that no one can win.

Thankfully, it doesn’t have to be this way.

Making small shifts to your mindset can work wonders in your relationship. Here, we’ll take a look at why negativity can ruin a relationship and explore small daily steps that you can take to help you and your partner move to a more positive headspace.


Turn on any TV sitcom, and it’s likely that you’ll see the age-old story of the clueless husband and the frustrated wife. It’s easy to understand why negativity in relationships is accepted as a normal part of life, but that doesn’t mean that it’s conducive for long-term relational happiness.

Most people believe that they’re better (more intelligent, more honest, or more successful) than they really are—a type of thinking known as overconfidence bias. That’s not the only bias at play when it comes to being hyper-critical of your partner. Many people also experience a negativity bias, meaning they pay more attention to negative information than positive information. So, if you’ve ever noticed that negative comments from your partner seem to stick in your mind more than positive ones, it’s not just in your head.

Negativity in a relationship results in major withdrawals from your relationship bank account, and no matter how many positive comments you make to counteract negativity, it’s hard to get out of the red. Neuroscience tells us that our brains tend to put more weight on negative events than on positive events, likely because people tend to spend more time looking at negative stimuli compared to positive stimuli.

So how do you turn all of that negativity into more positive pursuits? Experts at the Gottman Institute suggest the 5:1 ratio for relationships. They state that during arguments, the happiest couples have five positive interactions for every one negative interaction. This means that even when serious issues are on the table, happy couples continue to joke, compliment, and support their partners.

If you’ve found that your relationship is sailing down the spiral of negativity, no worries–all hope is not lost. Let’s take a look at some of the small changes you can make to begin the process of getting things back on track.

1. Listen to Understand–Not to Respond.

It’s easy to get caught up in crafting your response to your partner before they’re finished talking. Instead of developing a rebuttal, listen to your partner (and ask questions when they’re done speaking) to ensure that you fully understand where they’re coming from before you share your thoughts.

2. Recognize Bids for Connection.

Recognizing small interactions known as “bids” for connection can help increase the positivity in your relationship. When your partner lets out a long sigh after a phone call, smiles at you when you walk into the room, or points out something funny in the newspaper, they’re making a bid for your attention. Studies by The Gottman Institute show that people in happy, positive relationships tend to turn toward (engage with) the bids far more often than they ignore or reject bids.

3. Take Care of Yourself.

It’s hard to be positive with your partner when you’re not feeling great about yourself. Taking care of yourself doesn’t just mean treating yourself to your favorite foods–it also means getting enough exercise, sleep, and healthy foods, spending time with positive family and friends, and avoiding people and things that drag you down.

4. Counteract Negativity with Positivity.

Like we mentioned earlier, it’s important to both lower the number of negative interactions you have with your partner and counteract the negative interactions you do have with positive ones. As you’re working to lower your negativity, pay attention to your speech and actions, and work to pepper in additional positive comments when you notice you’ve been critical or pessimistic.


When you’re putting in the work to change the tides in your relationship, it can take some time for your partner to get on board. Talking with your partner about shifting your relationship in a positive direction can be effective, and it’s important that you’re patient with them as they work to make changes.

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