How to Deal With a Negative Spouse

A negative spouse can take a toll on any marriage. When you are in a relationship with someone who is always negative, this can negatively impact your state of mind as well.

So, how do you deal with a negative spouse? We asked experts to share their insights.

Dr. Tricia Wolanin, Psy.D.

Dr. Tricia Wolanin

Clinical Psychologist | Author | Yoga Instructor

Having a pessimistic or negative spouse can be quite a difficult feat to navigate, but there are some tips we can utilize.

Be empathetic to their situation

If you were to have lived life in their shoes, what were the events that happened in his/her life that shaped their ways they viewed the world.

Perhaps your spouse has gone through a traumatic and overwhelming event and this has shaped his/her life. This could be molestation, abusive parents, dealing with grief at an early age, bullying, and numerous other examples.

If we place ourselves from his/her lens, we can begin to understand how they view the world.

Depending on what is going on in our spouse’s life, we could encourage counseling. Perhaps they are experiencing drama at work, have ailing parents, or the loss of a close friend. This may be impacting them and they do not know how to handle this current situation.

Without self-reflection, this can easily turn into pessimistic attitudes. Do they want to stay negative? Is it a protective barrier? Maybe they do not know of any other way to be.

Have a strong form of support

In reality, our spouses cannot fill every role in our lives. If we only go to our spouse when good things happen or we have a new idea that is being flushed out, and they are negative, it will be crushed before it occurs. Having friends that are supportive is necessary to lean on to help maintain our hope and positivity.

Having a form of daily discipline or spiritual practice can also help mitigate the impact of negativity from them on us. This could be a mindfulness practice, gratitude, energetic work to form a metaphorical/protective bubble, prayer, mantra, intention, and numerous other modalities.

Jason Drake, LCSW

Jason Drake

Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Katy Teen & Family Counseling

There are three ways to deal with a negative spouse:

Confront their spouse with compassion

Being around a negative person can be exhausting. Negativity is contagious and a good mood can turn sour soon when being around someone negative.

Often the first thing a spouse will do in dealing with a negative spouse is to confront their spouse with compassion. Sometimes this helps bring attention to something the spouse may not have observed in themselves.

Should a spouse confront their negative spouse in the heat of the moment and without compassions, this is where things could get ugly fast. When pointing out someone’s flaw in behavior, timing and approach are everything.

Should the spouse be confronted without compassion, the spouse can respond with a high degree of defensiveness and hostility. This not only does not help the situation but can cause damage to the relationship as well.

Contain the negativity

After a spouse has attempted to compassionately confront their spouse without having a positive outcome, a spouse may try to contain the negativity. This is particularly true when the couple have children or teens together.

A spouse may try to do what they can to deflect the negativity away from their children or teens. Often the spouse becomes the martyr and takes the brunt of the negativity to spare the kids the harmful effects of the negativity.

Steer clear

Usually, this approach is taken by a spouse after they have attempted to compassionately confront their spouse and after attempting to contain the negativity. When a spouse resorts to steering clear of the negativity, this is a sign that they feel hopeless in the negativity changing.

Spouses who steer will find ways to avoid being around the spouse. They may find themselves working longer hours. They may become extra involved in the kids extra curricular activities like volunteering to coach their sport teams.

Spouses who steer clear may also include their kids in this strategy as much as possible. The spouse may sign the kids up for activities that take them out of the house. They may be intentional in spending more one-on-one time or group time with the kids.

The best method

The best method to deal with a negative spouse is to compassionately confront the spouse. It is often the case that the spouse does not realize how negative they have become. It can be uncomfortable having this discussion and no one enjoys their faults being pointed out.

Yet it is the compassionate thing to do to gently confront the spouse to allow them an opportunity to make some changes. This also gives the spouse an opportunity to talk about what support they may need to make the change away from negativity.

If the tables were turned, many would say they would appreciate someone bringing this to their attention and being provided an opportunity to change and request needed support.

Dr. Trish Henrie-Barrus

Trish Barrus

Psychologist | Mental Health and Addiction Treatment Therapist | Assistant Professor of Educational Psychology, University of Utah | Clinical Director, Ampelis Recovery

Negativity breeds negativity and just ignoring a negative spouse will adversely affect you. Here are some steps to deal with the negativity. (these are only a partial list)

Call him on his negativity

Don’t minimize the situation or think that by “sweeping it under the rug” it will go away. Feelings buried alive never die. You have to deal with your feelings and how his are affecting you. Many times people don’t even know how negative they are being.

Get him to talk but set limits

People need the outlet of being able to talk but they need boundaries. “Let’s talk and unwind for 20 minutes and then we’ll go on a walk.” The first step in good communication is listening to understand. Listen and reflect back. He might just need to hear you reflect back what he is saying to realize how negative he’s being.

Point out the good

After you’ve understood his viewpoints, point out the good in his life. Be specific and loving. Empathy goes along way and so does gratitude.

Implement traditions in your marriage that promote positivity

At the end of each day tell each other what was the best part of your day. Then state 3 things you’re grateful for. This helps him look for the good each day, instead of the bad. It also helps both of you get to know each other better.

Cheri Timko, M.S.

Cheri Timko

Relationship Coach, Synergy Coaching

We get married to enjoy life with another person. All of us accept that marriage will have it’s hard spots, but we imagine that being married will also have joy that comes from sharing life with another person.

When our partners are overly negative, expect the worst from every situation, and focus on the things that are not going perfectly, it can wear us down. Here are some tips on how to make things better.

Be honest about how the negativity is affecting you

It is important to have honest and kind communication that allows you to talk to your spouse about how things are working between the two of you. Try to bring it up when you are both relaxed.

Make sure that you have some reasonable suggestions about how to change the pattern between you, but don’t get overly focused on solving the problem in one specific way.

Prepare yourself to hear some negative feedback about yourself, but also try to keep the conversation focused on the problem that you are experiencing.

Adjust your rating scale

If your partner’s best compliment is “It was fine,” then treat that as the highest praise. Because it really is. When your partner only has one or two negative critiques, that might be equivalent to when you say “It was fine.” Learning how to interpret their rating scale can help you react more calmly to their responses.

Don’t expect them to react the way you do

It is normal for couples to have different interpretations, opinions, and experiences of the same events. If your partner does not react the same way, show some curiosity about how they reach their conclusions. It might open up your eyes to a different way of looking at the world.

It’s not about you

Most likely, your spouse’s negativity is not about you. If you try to convince them to look at everything through a more positive lens, they are going to feel like you are trying to change them or feel criticized. This is not going to help either of you feel better about the relationship. If you make it about you, you are more likely to have their negativity aimed at you.

Give yourself a break

If you thrive in a positive culture, you will need to have other activities and people who feed you. It is okay to know that will not come from your partner.

In fact, you can still have a good relationship–it just won’t look like it did in your imagination. Then again, whose relationship does look like our dreams? So find other outlets and encouragement.

Sometimes what looks like negativity might be something else. Without calming down the part of yourself that wants to fight against it, you won’t know if your partner really is anxious, confused, or overwhelmed.

Do yourself a favor and look a little deeper to really understand what they are experiencing. You can have a great relationship, but it is easier if your expectations fit the reality of the situation.

Dr. Brenda Wade

Brenda Wade

Advisor, Online For Love

Dealing with a negative spouse can be a real challenge. If you love this person, you may want to kick them to the curb, or maybe it hasn’t crossed your mind yet. Ask yourself, “Was there a trigger that led to the negativity, a loss, injury or illness, or disappointment?”.

Seek professional help

Negative thinking is both a door opener to depression and a symptom of depression. A way to verify that your spouse has depression is to ask if they’d be willing to take one of many depression self-tests online. If they check enough boxes, the next step would be to have your partner see a good therapist or therapy group to begin the healing process.

The process will take time and patience.

If your spouse refuses to go to therapy, make sure to take care of yourself by attending therapy sessions yourself. When you live with a negative person, it can affect you and anyone else in your household and lead you to depression.

Another way to help you during these times is to acquire tools to help teach you and your spouse to shift into a more positive gear. Some examples of tools are: mediating, self-help books, reading daily affirmations, or breaking a sweat by dancing or working out.

Another thing to keep in mind when dealing with a negative spouse is to keep your ambulance in your garage. Even though you may make suggestions and practice your new communication skills with them, it isn’t your job to rescue your spouse.

There will be two depressed people and one thoroughly exhausted person in your marriage if you do try.

Be positive no matter what

You can do so with the tools I suggested or by spending time with uplifting friends and family members. When you surround yourself with positive people, it helps protect you emotionally and mentally.

Maria Akopyan

Maria Akopyan

Family Law Attorney | Certified Life and Divorce Coach, Dignified Divorce Coaching

Dealing with a negative spouse isn’t easy, especially since we’re likely to take on the spouse’s emotions as our own. The negativity can feel contagious, and very often draining on our own psyche.

But there are ways to minimize the effects of dealing with a negative spouse:

Remember that your spouse’s emotional state is not personal to you

When living under the same roof and dealing with one another, it’s easy to let the moodiness, negativity, and irritation feel that it’s a direction to you or something you did. If your spouse snaps at you for some reason, instead of reacting or getting immediately defensive, take a moment to consider what is at the core of the negativity.

Oftentimes, we tend to be negative and the most critical when we are stressed, dealing with anxiety or depression, and feeling an insurmountable amount of pressure for various reasons. It’s easy to take out our stressors on those around us even unintentionally.

This moment of pause and reflection can help to disentangle your spouse’s emotions from reflecting on you or anything you did.

Tend to your own well-being

Take good care of yourself to make sure that your cup is full and you’re doing well emotionally. Caring more about you feeling good is not selfish or inconsiderate. It’s actually a form of self-love and self-care.

If your spouse’s negativity triggers you, become aware of how it’s affecting you (you’re feeling frustrated, annoyed, etc) and remind yourself that you don’t have to take on their emotions. You can be there empathetically and compassionately to listen and validate them but you can also choose to not let it affect you, to not let the negativity drag you down as well.

Oftentimes, when one spouse is “vibrating at a higher frequency” so to speak and in a better state, that can inspire the other spouse and uplift them as well. Holding that space of positivity and safety can very well be what the negative spouse needs to step out of the negativity, even if it’s only for a moment.

Resist the urge to “fix” your spouse or what he/she is experiencing

You cannot control or fix anyone and trying to do so will prove to be futile. Everyone has their own journey, experiences and lessons to learn. We all have times when we’re going through a “dark night of the soul” or dealing with unpleasant circumstances.

If your spouse is having a difficult period and has become negative, remind yourself that this is temporary. He/she will eventually snap out of it and likely doesn’t need you to “fix” anything. Sometimes we just need to feel our emotions, have permission to deal with them as we need to even if it is messy and uncomfortable for those around us.

Although you could suggest seeking professional help or other ways that may be beneficial, ultimately it’s up to your spouse to take action and help himself feel better.

Lindsey A. Easterling

Lindsay Easterling

Certified Collaborative Law Attorney | Founder, Easterling Law, PLLC

Dealing with a negative spouse can be exhausting! It may feel like they set the tone for the entire household, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

We get to choose how we feel and respond to the negativity in our life. Even without a negative person living in your midst, finding ways to be thankful for what you have can change your perspective and set the tone in your heart.

Keep a gratitude journal

For example, keeping what’s known as a gratitude journal to write down three things each day that you are thankful for can really change your mindset and allow you to see the good.

Have you ever decided that you were going to buy a new car, and then all of a sudden, that type of car is everywhere you look?

Those cars were always there, but because they are at the top of your mind, you see them more clearly. The same is true with positive and grateful thoughts! Try it; I dare you!

Foster joy and positivity

Another amazing feeling to replace or outshine negativity is joy.

I know, maintaining personal joy around someone who may be a negative nancy is tough, but you are worth the hard work. Do you love a good comedy? Watch a show or movie (even if you have already seen it) and give yourself the freedom to laugh out loud when something is humorous.

Your body and mind will be so thankful that you let it all out! You can’t help but feel better after a good laugh. If you’re lucky enough to have a friend or other significant person that can make you laugh, even better!

These short moments may not fix the grey cloud over your home, but getting glimpses of joy and laughter can help you push through.

Maybe fostering your own positivity still isn’t enough. Perhaps talking to your spouse in a loving and direct way is your hard next step. Try first to think, what are they feeling? Do they realize their negative tone? Maybe therapy, professional help, or even medicine would best help them out of their funk? Rest assured, you are going to love them through this, but acknowledging the difficult season they are in may be all you have to do.

Unfortunately, many people I meet have tried all of these things, and their best next step is ultimately divorce or separation.

  • Do you find yourself trying to keep your head above water while your spouse brings you down?
  • Have you tried to cope with all of the tips and tricks available, but nothing seems to change or get better?
  • Do you feel like you are a shell of who you used to be and you are struggling to see the positives of staying in this negative marriage?

Maybe this isn’t what you signed up for. Maybe they need help but aren’t willing to seek it. This is a really hard place to be, but you aren’t being true to yourself. Maybe divorce or separation will bring the positive things back into perspective for you, or even for both of you.

As a divorce attorney, I see this all the time. Marriage is difficult, but trying to navigate the difficult waters while also being dragged down by constant negativity is suffocating. They are so lost and downtrodden, but divorce allows them to become free and joyful again.

It is a really tough decision, but sometimes it is the right one. I have seen so many lives changed for the better when they peacefully leave their marriages so that they can learn to become themselves again.

Regina Stiffler MS, LPC

Regina Stiffler

Licensed Professional Counselor, Earthsong Counseling, PLLC

Remember what you love about them

It is easy to get caught up in the negativity and forget what really attracted you to your spouse in the first place.

Make a list of the things you love about your spouse and keep it available when the negativity starts to make you feel It might be helpful to keep a journal of the positive things that your spouse says or does to remind yourself that it’s not all negative.

Set boundaries

Boundaries are one of the most important ways to deal with a negative spouse. Think about what you need in order to feel good on a daily basis. Your boundaries should support those needs.

For example, you may need to limit discussion of certain topics that you know your spouse views negatively around bedtime.

Practice good self-care

Self-care is far more than bubble baths and sheet masks. Self-care also involves making sure you’re nourishing your body appropriately, you’re meeting your spiritual needs, and caring for your mental health. It may be helpful to talk to a counselor on a regular basis as well.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I maintain my own positivity while dealing with a negative spouse?

When you’re dealing with a negative spouse, it’s essential to prioritize self-care and maintain your own emotional well-being. Ensure you have a support system outside of your marriage, such as friends, family, or a therapist, to provide additional emotional support.

Engage in activities that you enjoy and help you maintain a positive attitude. Setting boundaries with your spouse and practicing assertive communication can help you manage the impact of their negativity on your own mental health.

What if my spouse refuses to acknowledge or address their negativity?

If your spouse is unwilling to acknowledge or work on their negativity, it’s essential to consider your own well-being and evaluate your relationship. Keep open communication and express your concerns using “I” statements.

You may also suggest couples counseling to address the issue with the help of a professional. Ultimately, it’s crucial to prioritize your emotional health and make choices that promote your well-being, even if that means reevaluating your relationship.

What role does empathy play in dealing with a negative spouse, and how can I cultivate it?

Empathy is essential when dealing with a negative spouse because it allows you to understand and validate their feelings and perspectives. To develop empathy, you must be a good listener, ask open-ended questions, and put yourself in your spouse’s shoes.

By practicing empathy, you can create a more supportive and compassionate environment which can help your spouse feel more comfortable talking about their struggles and working to improve their mindset.

How can I distinguish between a negative spouse and a spouse going through a difficult time or suffering from mental health issues?

It can be challenging to differentiate between a negative spouse and a spouse going through a difficult time or struggling with mental health issues.

One key distinction is the duration and consistency of their negativity. If the negative behavior is a persistent pattern rather than a temporary reaction to specific events or circumstances, it may be a sign of a generally negative attitude.

On the other hand, if your spouse’s negativity seems to be related to a specific stressor or recent change, it could be a temporary reaction or a manifestation of mental health struggles. A consultation with a mental health professional can help you understand and manage these challenges.

What should I do if my spouse’s negativity affects our children?

If your spouse’s negativity affects your children, it’s crucial to address the problem together as a family. Open communication and setting a positive example for your children are essential steps.

Encourage your spouse to be aware of how their behavior affects the children and work together to create a more positive atmosphere at home.

You may also want to consider seeking professional support, such as family therapy or counseling, to help you manage the situation’s complexity and develop effective strategies for a healthier family dynamic.

Is it possible that my own behavior or communication style is contributing to my spouse’s negativity?

It’s essential to reflect on your behavior and communication style when trying to understand and address your spouse’s negativity. Consider whether your actions, words, or attitudes may be unintentionally contributing to a negative environment or exacerbating your spouse’s negative feelings.

Engage in self-reflection and be open to feedback from your spouse. If you find that your behavior is contributing to the issue, change your communication style, practice empathy, and work to create an atmosphere that is more supportive and positive for both of you.

What is the role of forgiveness in dealing with a negative spouse, and how can I cultivate it?

Forgiveness is essential to dealing with a negative spouse because it allows both partners to let go of the resentment and move forward together. To cultivate forgiveness, you must recognize that everyone makes mistakes and acknowledge the imperfections in your relationship.

By empathizing with your spouse’s struggles and showing compassion, you can foster an environment of understanding and forgiveness. Keep in mind that forgiveness is a process that takes time and effort but can ultimately lead to a healthier and more resilient relationship.

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