Negative thoughts can be the ultimate relationship killer. We know from research that there is a very tight feedback loop between a person’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors so having negative thoughts can definitely send you down the rabbit hole. It is important to know your unique thought patterns that can lead to major relationship problems. For example, you may hold beliefs from early in life, or a more recent past experience, that no one can be trusted and will take advantage of you or cheat on you. You may believe you are unlovable or that you can change your partner if they love you enough. You also might notice yourself engaging in catastrophic thinking like believing everything is ruined after one argument or all or nothing thinking such as if things aren’t perfect then the whole relationship is a failure.
The following is a seven step guide to stopping negative thoughts from ruining your relationship.
Make a list of your typical thoughts that lead to fights or breakups. Go through these thoughts and write down evidence for/against each thought.
Come up with an alternative thought that is accurate and adaptive. For example, if you believe that the person you just started dating is no longer interested in you because they haven’t responded to your text for several hours, make a list of all the other things that they might be doing. Think about other times they took a while to respond. What is some evidence that they are still interested? The alternative thought here could be as simple as ‘just because I haven’t heard from ______ doesn’t mean they aren’t interested.’ The thought will have more effectiveness if it is more detailed and you can believe it at least 60%.
Understand how your thoughts lead you to do things that can be, quite plainly put, intolerable and destructive like going through your partner’s belongings, calling or texting repeatedly, constantly putting yourself down, or criticizing your partner over minor things. To follow the above example, understand that you want to text repeatedly because you want reassurance that they care. Ask yourself, though, will you really get that reassurance? What could be the consequences of calling or texting 25 times to “check in.”
When you notice yourself having the urge to do the aforementioned things, take a time out for yourself and practice some skills to help yourself like counting to ten and breathing, reviewing your more adaptive thoughts, and if you are really activated or angry then try holding a frozen lemon which should help lower the intensity of your emotions.
Communication with your partner is particularly useful. Ask for clarification instead of jumping to conclusions. Be mindful of your tone and make sure you bring your own emotional intensity down (see frozen lemon tip) before attempting a conversation.
Think about what makes you feel secure in your relationship and make a list of the relationship and your partner’s positive qualities.
Review old photographs from the beginning of your relationship. Think about what drew you to this person in the first place.
Don’t forget that individual and couples therapy can be helpful to recognize and correct these patterns and improve your relationship’s overall health. In some instances it may be time to break up, but figuring out these patterns and how to make some importance changes will improve future relationships.