Harboring Negative Perceptions in Marriage

Harboring negative perceptions about your spouse can be incredibly destructive to your marriage. Unfortunately, it occurs in the vast majority of marriages to some degree. This is problematic for a number of reasons. What are negative perceptions, how do they harm marital relationships, and what can be done to combat this tendency?

Simply put, negative perceptions occur in marriage when you identify and interpret your mate’s actions, behavior, conduct, words, motives, intentions, and so forth in a negative way – or at least more negatively than is actually the case. In other words, you convince yourself that you know the true thoughts or emotions behind what he/she says and does – and you are also convinced that these are negative in nature. You see wrong with your mate even when it’s not there.

Harboring negative perceptions is dangerous because such beliefs are incorrect more often than not. They are not based on fact or reality. Or, at the very least they distort reality making it appear worse than it is. People construct these negative, incorrect perceptions based on little or no evidence. You cannot read your partner’s mind and cannot know what he/she is thinking with any degree of certainty. Sadly, even actions that are born of good intentions can be perceived in a negative light.

Negative perceptions also have potential to cause great harm because they are difficult if not impossible refute. If you are convinced that your spouse wants to hurt your feelings, embarrass you, harm the relationship, withdraw from you, ignore you, control you, and so forth - then how is he/she supposed to persuade you otherwise? Often it cannot be done. Since you already see his/her motives and intentions as negative and/or manipulative you will not give credence to any attempts to convince you otherwise. It’s a no-win situation for your partner who will come to feel that he/she can do nothing right in your eyes.

When negative perceptions are shared or exposed it can quickly erode the relationship. This is because people instinctively become defensive when accused or viewed with suspicion. When one’s character or integrity is brought into question it is only natural to become upset, angry, or resentful.

If a pattern of negative perceptions continues partners may come to feel hopeless and fatalistic about the future of the relationship. When this happens couples may desist constructive communication, emotionally withdraw, and just generally give up. The tragedy of the situation is that when this happens it is viewed as confirmation of the erroneous negative beliefs. In reality it was the negative thoughts and views that were the root cause of the problem in the first place. It’s a vicious circle.

What can you do to combat this destructive tendency to perceive your spouse negatively? It is a legitimate challenge because people generally have very poor insight that their viewpoint and interpretations are negative. Therefore, the problem goes undetected. However, now that you know of the potential for this phenomenon to occur in relationships you can do something about it.

If it comes to your attention that negative perceptions may be a problem and source of conflict in your marriage you must force yourself to look at the circumstances objectively. Challenge your thoughts. Try to view the situation from your spouse’s perspective. Instead of viewing everything as evidence to prove that your perceptions were correct try to seek evidence that you are wrong in your assumptions. Look for the good and positive assets of your mate. Realize that you cannot read your partner’s mind and cannot ultimately judge his/her thoughts, motives, and intentions. Give your spouse the benefit of the doubt and choose to believe in him/her.
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