We’ve all known people who have divorced. Perhaps you have a divorce in your past. The common reasons you hear of are about infidelity, addictions, abuse, or having irreconcilable differences.
The biggest cause of divorce, and what is an umbrella for many other reasons used to separate from the one time love is called the Dark Lens Epidemic. This epidemic is caused by a progressive amnesia that forces you to forget who your spouse really is. Instead, you start looking at him/her through a dark lens that begins to shut out all those good things you love.
This epidemic minimizes your spouse, in your own eyes, into someone you can no longer live with.
Your marriage is at risk of contracting the Dark Lens Epidemic when you get stuck in what John Gottman, professor emeritus in psychology, coins the Negativity Pattern.
1. Criticism or complaining comes across as hurtful instead of the cry for help it is intended to be. This could be because the criticizing/complaining partner is offensive with his/her delivery or the receiving partner is hypersensitive to criticism/complaints, and sometimes it can be a bit of both.
2. The “offended” partner responds with defensiveness, which is like dripping battery acid on his/her spouse’s heart.
3. The partner receiving the defensive response is further hurt past the original cause of the criticism/complaint and responds with contempt.
4. The partner who is treated with contempt begins to stonewall (Turn a cold shoulder or withdraw from the relationship).
This cycle will not in and of itself end a marriage, in fact, while it can be hurtful at times, it’s how you come back together after this cycle that matters most.
If you get stuck in a negativity pattern without resolutions for long enough, it will create an environment where you or your spouse will begin to disavow yourself from the matters at hand. Everything will seem to be your partner’s fault and you will notice thoughts such as “If only he wouldn’t continually criticize me…”, or “If she would just stop complaining, we would be fine”.
You will begin to turn away from your partner and start to treat him/her poorly and feel justified in doing so. These are huge warning signs that you are falling victim to the epidemic.
You and/or your spouse will begin focusing on negative traits instead of positive ones. It will seem as if everything is a problem, you might flood each other with negative responses, become hypersensitive, or start walking on eggshells around each other, failing to connect at a heart level.
At this point, your relationship becomes distorted. You or your spouse can actually begin to forget your marital history and why you even got married in the first place.
That is when the epidemic becomes more dramatic and if it continues, it can completely destroy your marriage just as it has millions of others.
The good news is that you can immune your marriage from falling prey to this shockingly horrible epidemic.
The first step is to remain absolutely committed to your spouse. Keeping your agreements and promises is the most honorable thing you can do to maintain the integrity of your marriage.
Next, watch how you criticize or complain to your partner. Is it respectful, is it kind, and is it even necessary? If not, wait until you can be respectful and kind. Then, keep your criticism or complaint focused on the action and not the person.
For an example, “I would like for the garbage to be emptied in a timely manner because I can’t stand the house smelling like this” is much better than saying “Why are you so friggin’ lazy, the garbage is your job and I can’t believe you just let it pile up and stink like that….”
The other part of this step is if you feel your partner is criticizing you or complaining in a hurtful way. Immediately stop listening with your ears and listen with your heart to what might be behind your partner’s words. Responding to a cry of help out of love is going to improve your marriage more than acting out defensively in an indignant, self-righteous way.
After you help your spouse, then respectfully and kindly point out that you were hurt by the delivery of their criticism/complaint and allow them to make amends if they are needed.
Can you see how that will stop the negativity pattern in its tracks? Good, because that is the whole point.
Here are a few more steps that will help keep your marriage immune from the Dark Lens Epidemic:
Practice radical soothing behaviors, for yourself and for each other. Take short time outs, not to turn away from your partner or give the cold shoulder, but to calm down and can come from a more loving space. Also, reach out to your partner in soothing ways, a touch, a soft look, a hug… offering a loving gesture will calm you both down.
Validate each other’s feelings even when you don’t agree because feelings are real and your spouse deserves it. You validate your partner when you are fully present, accurately reflect back how you understand his/her feelings – whether or not you agree with them or not – and avoid rejecting, judging or arguing about how your spouse feels.
Offering compassion, kindness, empathy, putting yourself in his/her shoes are all excellent ways to help your spouse feel as if his/her feelings matter to you.
Turn toward your partner, first and always. That goes back to keeping your promises. Live your wedding vows and keep them alive – the way they are meant to be.
Then, from facing each other first, you can face the world together as a united front.
For more, read and practice the art of Mindful Loving. This is a free eBook and my gift to you and your marriage.