Breaking the cycle of negativity (with a case study)

It is, unfortunately, so common that we feel the need to vent our negative emotions about our partners to our friends, extended family or co-workers. We may bring our frustration and sense of injustice with our personal lives into our workplace or to our girls (or lads) night out. We tend to assume, usually quite rightly, that our colleagues and friends will be in our corner, giving us the uncritical support we’re fishing for (but just quietly, they probably don’t want to hear it.) We’ve all done it, but how does it make us feel throughout the day? And what affect does it have on our relationship?

Let us set it out for you

Take the example of Billy and Tilly. Billy overslept this particular morning and went to get a clean shirt. He bellowed a question to Tilly, only to find that she hadn’t picked up the dry cleaning and he would have to iron a shirt himself while she was getting the children ready for the day. Billy turned on the iron, mumbling under his breath about the unfairness of the situation and how Tilly was selfish for not supporting him.

At his morning break he is still fuming about the morning’s debacle. He tells a co-worker in intimate detail about his bad morning. This happens at lunch to another colleague and then again at afternoon break to someone else. At the end of the day, Billy is fuming, chewing over how badly Tilly has been treating him. He’s even madder than he was at the start of the day because all of his colleagues have sided with him and validated his anger.

Meanwhile, Tilly has had a tough day. She had trouble getting the kids out the door in the morning and so she was late to work and got yelled at by her boss. After running around all morning to catch up, she was called away by the school because one of the kids was sick and had to be taken home early. Her boss was not impressed.

Billy walks in the door. Tilly greets him with a warm smile and goes to kiss him hello. Billy turns his head so the kiss is missed and angrily asks whether she has picked up his dry cleaning. She says ‘No’ and tries to explain, but Billy won’t listen: he’s ranting and raving about how she doesn’t love him and he is not feeling supported by her. Tilly, being rather tired and fed up herself, tries to explain but doesn’t get the chance, so she goes on the defensive. They have a major fight and the entire evening is ruined.

Let’s see how their day could have gone a little differently.

The same morning happens: Billy oversleeps, his shirts aren’t there and he has to iron his own. He leaves the house frustrated and grumpy.

But he uses his drive to work to calm down and reinterpret the events of the morning. He remembered that he’d noticed Tilly looking a bit frazzled and realised that it might be because one of their children is sick and he hadn’t been very helpful in getting them ready for school. At morning break he tells a co-worker about their sick child and how Tilly got up during the night so that he could keep sleeping. He tells the story of ironing his own shirt wryly, as a joke at the expense of his own (lack of!) skills. He acknowledges that this is the first time in a long time that there hadn’t been clean shirts ready for work, and says how much he appreciates everything that Tilly does. This happens at lunch to another colleague and then again at afternoon break to someone else. At the end of the day, he has a big smile on his face and excitedly anticipates seeing Tilly again.

Meanwhile, Tilly has had the same tough day. She’s late, overworked, and stressed because she had to pick up their sick kid from school.

Billy walks in the door. Tilly greets him with a warm smile and goes to kiss him hello. He takes her in his arms and gives her the biggest hug and kiss she has had in a while. She smiles warmly up at him and asks “What brought that on?” He replies that he had been telling his co-workers just how amazing she is and how proud he is to be married to her.

He notices her tired eyes and guides her over to the couch. He makes her a cup of tea so she can relax. He feeds the kids and gets them into bed then snuggles up to Tilly on the couch. He asks whether she has picked up the dry cleaning. She explains why she wasn’t able to pick it up. Billy nods, kisses her and says “I’ll go iron a shirt now so I won’t have to do it in the morning and I’ll pick up the dry cleaning during lunch tomorrow”.

So what’s different?

The details of your life and your role in your relationship will be different, but which of these stories would you prefer to participate in? Imagine a similar sequence of events with your own partner – and it may be friends or family rather than workmates who are the audiences for our stories, either positive or negative. What would be the effect on your own mood of retelling stories, positive or negative?

When we re-tell and re-live our grievances with our partners to others, we get angry all over again, and store up negative emotions that just cause further negative interactions. We stew all day and then “boil over” at the slightest comment or action from our loved ones. This sets off a chain-reaction, or a repetitive cycle of negativity where we have a fight with our partners, we stew about it all day and explode at them when we see them again, and then we stew over THAT fight.

On the other hand, ‘rehearsing’ positive thoughts and stories about our partners when talking with others reminds us of why we got together in the first place and what we love about them, and stores up positive emotions. When we see them again, we’re full of love and appreciation (and maybe a little guilty for treating them unfairly!) and we are able to prevent or break any negative cycles.

Simply thinking differently about your negative interaction with you partner can break the cycle of negativity and build a stronger, healthier relationship.

#couples #relationships #marriage #communication #family #supportiverelationship #Queensland #goldcoast #solutionfocusedtherapy #premartialcounselling #Australia #counselling #therapy #wedding #cycleofnegativity #conflictresolution

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