• Gayle

How Negativity Can Kill a Relationship

Okay, so it's not "news" to most of us that negativity harms a relationship. That's why many people try at least to avoid it, limit it, or inure ourselves to its effects.

Me included.

It's exhausting being on the defensive and angry when a significant other is giving me sh*t. On the other hand, as a person who runs toward--rather than away from-- debating this or that issue or point, I generally don't have a problem with "the negativity that comes with conflict."

Because these "discussions" aren't connected in my mind space as "negative vibes."

Honestly, I've always defended them as healthy dissent. And unavoidably human. Because humans have different wants, needs, opinions etc. As well as competing for limited resources, also giving rise to conflict. Yep, all while sheepishly admitting that I know others often don't feel the same (family and friends included). And yep, have still kept right on pontificating.


... love is not symmetrical, and most of us don’t realize how lopsided it can be. The worse matters far more than the better in marriage or any other relationship. That’s how the brain works... when we hear a mix of compliments and criticism, we obsess over the criticism instead of enjoying the praise.

To sum it up, the article, "How Negativity Can Kill a Relationship" on The Atlantic, explains that our brains have a negativity bias.

Which I immediately think makes a lot of sense, given my belief that our Prime Objective (not to be confused with Optimus Prime), comes down to "surviving and procreating" so the species lives on.

Except that's not it ,according to the article. Because "you’re also biased by an internal overconfidence that magnifies your own strengths."

Wow! Really?

As someone who has spent a lifetime trying to build both self-esteem and high confidence, this tenet doesn't naturally occur to me.

The next part, though, is a sentiment that I'm intimately aware of.

And that is the tendency to feel hurt (or pissed off) when a significant other (and that includes people whom I don't have a romantic relationship with but feel SHOULD know me), silently accusing them (okay, it's sometimes out loud) of being "blind to my virtues" and not appreciating all that I have done for them (out of caring and love, of course).

The evidence that negativity outweighs positive emotions and behaviors in a relationship?

In a classic study of how couples deal with problems, the bad stuff mattered most. When couples could choose between two constructive and two destructive strategies, doing something positive to improve things had very little impact (which makes mud of all those exercises that relationship therapists are so fond of, it would seem).

And for LTR couples (long-term relationships), once one couple goes overload on the negative, it's a sure bet that the other partner eventually will lean negative, too. Usually not right away. But if that negative feedback or infinity circle goes on long enough, reaches a tipping point of sorts, it's often no turning back.

Negativity is a tough disease to shake—and it’s highly contagious.

Yeah. Even while it might be tough to see in my personal relationships, I see evidence time and again in work environments (though not my current place of employment...there's different elements at play there and that's all I'll say about that).

The article cites another study that seems to fly in the face of the Gottman Method for resuscitating relationships and staying together (though if you get to the end of the article, will realize, John Gottman was/IS spot on).

As well as this negative nugget: Negativity hits young people especially hard, which is one reason that people who marry earlier in life are more likely to divorce than ones who delay marriage.


In case you're now thinking that you're going to unsubscribe from all those online dating sites you're on, as surely relationships are embedded with time bombs and existentially fatalism, don't despair. There is good news.

About which, I suggest you go straight to the last sentence in the article.

And having read it, realize that I need to stop rationalizing certain discussions as "healthy dissent," if I want what's good for me. Adopting the physician's oath instead:

Do no harm.

So you know: The Atlantic is behind a paywall, though you can read four articles a month for free. The article is adapted from the recently published, The Power of Bad: How the Negativity Effect Rules Us and How We Can Rule It by John Tierney, Roy F. Baumeister). It's available from the usual suspects.


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