Your afternoon was going well.
The two of you were even having a lovely time together—until that thought popped into your head.
You know the one.
- The one that makes you question your wife’s love for you— even though you know she cares.
- Or the one that makes you second-guess what your husband even sees in you.
- Or the one that makes you wonder whether you wouldn’t be better off not being married at all.
And now your brain doesn’t know whether to obsess about it for the next 3 days or squish it so far down that it never again sees the light of day.
I should know. I’ve been there.
So, how do you keep that negative thought from hijacking the rest of your day? And sending your brain spiraling out of control—and your marriage along with it?
The first thing you need to know is that your negative thoughts are normal. Negative thoughts about your spouse, about yourself, about your marriage … all of them. In fact, God created you to have negative thoughts.
But just because our ability to think negative thoughts is God-given, it doesn’t mean we should simmer in them.
I know. I’ve been there, too.
This negative thought is unpleasant and I don’t want it to ruin my day. I should be more positive. I should be more grateful. After all, so-and-so just lost her husband…
In fact, you may have read the Bible verses that tell us we should “take every thought captive” and “be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (2 Corinthians 10:5; Romans 12:2). You may have even heard that research shows how ruminating on our negative thoughts—or venting about them to someone else—makes the situation even worse.
That’s not surprising.
After all, doesn’t Philippians 4:8 say, “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think on these things”?
So you try to bury that negative thought—the one that’s doing its darnedest to sow seeds of doubt about your marriage—with so much positivity that your brain will only ever be able to conjure up sunshine and rainbows.
Except, that doesn’t work.
In fact, the harder you try to ignore the negative thought by invoking positivity, the more likely it is to pop back up in some other form later.
So, you’ve got a conundrum when it comes to negative thoughts:
- You want to listen to them, knowing they’re your brain’s God-given warning system, BUT
- You don’t want to listen to them too much because, just like a faulty car alarm, sometimes that warning system goes on the fritz.
So how do you determine that Goldilocks spot, the just right amount of attention to give this negative thought in this moment?
Here are 6 quick actions for when your negative thoughts try to take you down—and threaten to take your marriage with them.
1. Check in with your body
Ever notice that sometimes the very thing that prompts your brain to spiral into negative thinking today is the exact same thing that rolled right off your back without a second thought last week?
- What state am I in right now? Am I hungry? Tired? Stressed out? Over-caffeinated?
- If I’d been well-rested and relaxed, might I have had a different reaction?
Hint: If you spend so much time in a state of overwhelm that you no longer recognize it, take a quick peek at your planner to remind yourself of how much stress you’ve been under lately.
2. Check in with your environment
Like a fish that doesn’t realize it’s wet, sometimes we’re so immersed in our personal culture that we don’t notice it anymore. But our surroundings strongly affect our moods and thoughts without us even realizing it. If you’ve ever found yourself questioning your husband’s fidelity after watching a movie that featured a cheating spouse, you know how quickly our brains can skip down that negative brick road.
- What was I doing just before my brain was hijacked by this negative thought?
- What environmental inputs have I been exposed to recently that might have contributed to my thinking?
Hint: Consider music, movies, conversations, the news media, and even recent disappointments that were unrelated to your spouse. For example, a negative interaction at work can sometimes cause our brains to catalog all the negative interactions we’ve ever had—including the ones with our spouse.
3. Check your interpretation
Our brains have been collecting data on our behalf since before we were born. So naturally, we experience new events from our unique, well-honed perspective. But in order to accurately interpret the events around us, it’s important to widen the scope to include others’ perspectives.
- How could my spouse have meant this action for good — or at least, not intended it for harm?
- How might I have interpreted this situation when we were first dating—when I automatically assumed positive intent?
Hint: Be careful. If your brain assumes your spouse sees the situation exactly as you do, you’re missing something. No two people see a situation identically.
4. Check in with your spouse
It’s not always easy to see circumstances through someone else’s eyes. So ask your partner. But before you do, put away your Detective hat and grab your Biographer hat. The trick is to get curious, and seek to understand. And then believe them. (Also, be aware that your phrasing and tone of voice matter—a lot.)
Ask your partner:
- What did you mean when you said…?
- Help me understand…
- The story my brain has been telling me is….
- I’d love to hear your perspective/ how you see it.
Hint: Avoid asking “why” questions — as in, “why did you do it like that?”— because they almost always sound condemning even when they’re not intended to be. If you absolutely can’t avoid the why, start out with, “I’m curious. Why…” but be extra cautious of your tone.
5. Be on the lookout for growth
The blessing of intimate relationships is that you don’t have to always be on your best behavior. There’s no shame in lounging around in your ratty-but-oh-so-comfy-jammies while you watch cat videos together. But this blessing can also be a curse. Your spouse has a front-row seat to all of your not-so-pleasant behaviors— and you have a front row seat to theirs.
Because of this, it can be easy to fixate on their past mistakes and difficult to see them as the person they are right now —especially when negative thoughts take hold.
- Am I holding my spouse to an impossible standard— or is she allowed to grow without being expected to get it right perfectly every time?
- Does the fact that he made a mistake mean that no growth has occurred at all? That he’s still the exact same person he was 5 years ago?
Hint: When you catch yourself hyper-focused on the past, take a minute to list the specific ways your marriage has improved over time. And give yourselves a high-five for the progress you’ve made as a couple.
6. Get physical
It’s tempting to think that words are the solution to all problems. That’s certainly the case for my husband and me who, as writers and teachers, use words for a living. But sometimes more words is not the solution—and can even cause more problems.
One of the best ways to settle down your mind is to settle down your body. So when your instinct is to talk (or think) a situation to death, try settling down your body by engaging in a physical activity with your loved one. (It doesn’t have to be sexual in nature, but it certainly can be.)
Instead of asking yourself (or your spouse) more questions:
- Give them a 20-second hug
- Snuggle on the couch while you watch funny Facebook reels
- Hold hands as you walk through the neighborhood (or as you simply stand together in your kitchen)
Hint: Sometimes taking a short nap together or even curling up next to each other for a few minutes at night—before you retreat to your perfect sleeping positions—can help to sync your bodies’ nervous systems and remind you that you’re on the same team.
Which one of the above tricks resonates most with you? Give it a try next time that negative thought pops to mind.
- Need a handy reminder? Click here for a FREE pdf that you can print & stash —on your fridge, in your glove compartment, in your makeup drawer—so it’s available when you need it most.
- Growing Home Together Podcast— Episode 70: Freeing Your Relationships From Negative Thoughts