How Negative Thought Spirals Lead to Unhappy Marriages
90% of the arguments we have with our spouses are pointless and blown way out of proportion. Disagreements come about primarily due to unrelated issues, or because we’re in a negative emotional state when a neutral, minor situation arises.
You’re stressed out at work and come home to see a load of laundry has been forgotten in the washer for the past two days. You go down the spiral of negative thought:
“Oh my God. How ridiculous. Is there some reason she can’t do a simple load of laundry responsibly? Do I need to do everything? I’m not her father so why does she make me responsible for her like a child? This is just like that time she forgot to feed the dog and didn’t realize it til 10 pm. How can she be so irresponsible all the time?”
You then proceed to chastise your wife in a way that makes her defensive and angry. Rightfully so, it’s a load of freaking laundry. This launches the two of you into a total meltdown and you don’t speak for three days.
Or how about this classic:
Your sister-in-law, who you can’t stand, is having an engagement party for her second engagement… four months after her divorce. You just found out your husband RSVPed ‘yes’ without even asking. You think to yourself:
“Why the hell would she be throwing an engagement party when she’s already been married once? She blew it already and isn’t entitled to all the fun little perks the second time around. How is my husband ok with this? He knows they got divorced because of her and now here she is getting engaged again so quickly? Doesn’t he value marriage? Doesn’t he value me? Is this the example he wants to set for our kids? He is so thoughtless. He communicates like a four-year-old. Who does he think he is that he can just decide for me?”
And so on, and so forth. You freak out on him the next time he crosses your path because he clearly doesn’t value you as an equal or care about your marriage.
What’s the common thread between both of these scenarios? The argument you ended up starting with your spouse wasn’t of any importance and was really about something completely unrelated. In the first example, stress played a big part in the negative thought spiral that led the husband to lose it. In the second scenario, a personal dislike of someone turned into a negative thought spiral that led to a wife insisting her husband didn’t care about their marriage, or see her as an equal.
OK. I’ll prove it. What was the last argument you started with your spouse? I guarantee that if you deconstruct the argument backwards, from the fight to what you were thinking beforehand to what was going on before that, 90% of the time it will play out along the same script.
First, you experience a crappy emotion or are in a bad mood. You’re stressed out about work, money, health, whatever. You’re angry. You’re hungry or tired. You are pissed that you just got a parking ticket. Something has put you in a crappy emotional state.
Then, add a neutral minor situation. It’s not good or bad, it just is. It’s just reality, it’s just life. Your husband forgot to stop and pick-up toothpaste on his way home from work. Your wife picks you up some girl scout cookies because she knows you like them, even though you’re trying to lose weight. Minor stuff.
Those two things collide in a perfect storm. You get stuck in a negative thought spiral. It’s like headed down an ugly rabbit hole. You start out in a fairly rational place but, 15 rapid thoughts later, you’re convinced that you’re going to have to get a divorce because you only have two days worth of toothpaste left in the house and your husband thinks he’s above helping out.
You then unleash your crazy onto your spouse who is totally blindsided and thinks you’ve been possessed. Most of the time it escalates and puts little hairline cracks in the foundation of your marriage. Cracks mean an unhappy marriage, on both sides. Accumulate enough cracks or go unhappy for long enough and the marriage ends.
crappy emotion + neutral minor situation = negative thought spiral = stupid arguments = unhappy marriages
Yes, that’s a simplification but it’s often over complicating that leads us to not see what’s going on clearly. When you put everything into its simplest form, it becomes easier to prevent. Repairing is harder than preventing.
How do you identify a negative thought spiral?
It’s actually pretty easy if you’re trying to be more aware. First comes the crappy emotional state that puts you at risk for a negative thought spiral. Then when something happens, even something neutral, your thoughts start coming quicker. They get progressively more negative and you get progressively more upset.
The key is to either stop it from happening entirely or shift your thought process when it begins to go that direction. The more you practice being aware of your thoughts, the more harmony you will have in your relationship, the less likely you will end up in an unhappy marriage. Isn’t that what all we want anyway?