Conflicts — 19 October 2005
How to deal with negativity in your relationship

Negativity is an attitude or behavior that is marked by contrariness without facts or reason. The person who consistently denies what the partner affirms creates an emotional upheaval, loss of intimacy, anger, bewilderment and even hopelessness for the mate. It is a tiring and exhausting challenge for partners of contrarians to maintain their balance and connection in the relationship.

Negativism is often confused with pessimism, though they are distinctively different. A pessimistic person anticipates the worst, yet is usually not confrontational. The person holding a negative stance routinely creates conflict with the listener. His favorite response is: “No”, “it isn’t so”. “It is a beautiful day today”, may be responded to with: “It isn’t that beautiful”. The speaker’s attempt to befriend and connect with the holder of the negative view failed. He or she is left confused and frustrated unclear as to the purpose of this response. Due to unconscious motives Contrarians succeed in repelling others.

“I left my cup on the counter, did you see it?” may be answered with “You never left any cup anywhere near the counter”. The listener is left doubting his or her own reality due to the mate’s firm negation of it. People who live with the frequent invalidation of their perceptions may become first insecure and then angry. They report feeling at times as though they are losing their minds because of the disparity between what they know to be true for them and what they are told by their partners’ to be “the reality”.

When the first response to any suggestion is a refusal to assent, the proposing mate tends to cease making recommendations. When a simple suggestion of: “Let’s go to the beach today” is responded to with: “Why would I want to go to the beach?” the invitations get extinguished with time.

In refusing consent on a regular basis, the partnership is seriously damaged. Negotiating a pleasing activity for both partners is no longer an option, when one partner is routinely rebuffed by disapproval or vetoes. Sometimes sarcasm and shame accompany the negation, which may impact the listener’s sense of self-worth.

Some people describe their experience with a negative attitude holder as “Whatever I say, she will say the opposite”, or “I can not have an opinion, idea, feeling or thought that is not contradicted, just for the sake of argument.” This individual feels that all his or her precepts will be negated, which is hurtful, discounting and discourages future communication.

There cannot be a partnership between two adults when one individual is consistently overruled. Family decisions cannot take place without respectful sharing of ideas and therefore the relationship falters.

Mates of oppositional partners describe that even facts, evidence, authority and scientific findings do not dissuade the contrarian’s hold of his or her negative views. Hopelessness about being heard respected and considered often leads the partner to emotionally withdraw from the relationship. Some of these unions end up being terminated, while others miserably linger as one partner continues his or her futile quest for recognition.

The holder of the negative attitude is often a person who feels disempowered. He or she has adopted a juvenile stance of self-assertion. Young children in their quest for power and self-definition defy their parents with resistance and antagonism, so do some adults by using the same techniques. The adult inappropriately uses resistance, refusing consent, vetoes, and opposition to gain personal power and a sense of significance. Unfortunately, these behaviors may render him or her greater ineptitude.

If you are a mate of this individual, please consider:

• Your partner’s behavior stems from immature, misguided techniques of self-assertion, not from the intent to discredit you.
• Honor your feelings and demand the cessation of your partner’s damaging ways.
• If you can, validate and appreciate your partner’s contributions and worth, it may reduce the obstinate negativity.
• Discuss with your partner the seriousness of this conduct and the damage and risk to your relationship.
• Find other people who will validate you and your reality.
• If you feel hopelessness, despair and resignation, seek professional help for yourself and the relationship.
• Negativity is abusive and destructive to both of you and your children and change is essential for everyone’s well being.

October 16, 2005

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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