Distressed couple on bench

How to overcome negative thoughts in your relationship

Disrespect and negative thoughts go hand in hand

I love martial arts. I practiced judo throughout most of my childhood, and when I got older, I switched to karate (better for my back!).

The promotion for black belt took place over the course of a month at the headquarters of the karate organization in New York City . On the evening of the first promotion day, four other promotees and I sat in the small office of the grandmaster, together with five other of the highest-ranking members of our karate organization. Each one addressed us and encouraged us for the difficult period of promotion that lay ahead.

The grandmaster, Kaicho, spoke about the three guiding principles of Seido karate, two of which are respect and love. He explained how love grows out of respect.

Respecting someone means accepting them for who they are

When you think about it, it makes sense. Respecting others means that you accept and recognize them for who they are. If you respect someone, you treat them well because you value who they are.

It’s not always easy to value people as they are. But if you do, you will find some gentle feelings within yourself for them, and those can be the beginning of love toward others. Turned the other way around, it’s hard to love anyone you don’t truly respect.

This goes not only for karate but also for our everyday life as well. Sure, we have to be careful not to hurt others with our fists and physical strength; but our words and actions can be just as harmful, if not more so, than a punch.

We can do terrible harm to our relationships with what we say and do - or we can nurture them. The choice is up to you.

Negativity is hard to escape...

But it’s not an easy choice. Negativity seems to be everywhere around us - in politics, in the media, in our workplace, and unfortunately, also in our relationships and families.

Often, negative thoughts come to us so easily we're hardly aware of them. We blame our partners (“It’s no wonder the kids are so messy when you can’t even pick up after yourself!”) and we criticize them (“You don’t ever listen to me”), possibly leaving them depressed and feeling unloved. (Please note that I am talking about DESTRUCTIVE criticism - constructive criticism is helpful and needed at times. I’ll be posting more about how to take the sting out of criticism soon).

When you’re negative toward your loved one, you are essentially telling them you’re not okay with what they think, what they do, or how they are. You are rejecting, rather than respecting them. And sooner or later, this negativity will have a serious impact on your relationship.


Breaking the cycle of negative thoughts

But how do we overcome this cycle of negative thoughts?

1. Think about the pain points in your relationship

We humans are creatures of habit. Think about conflict points in your relationship and the situations in which you usually hurt your partner or start a fight. Is negativity playing a role? How you can you reevaluate those situations or react differently?


2. Talk about your own feelings

Instead of blaming your partner (as in, “You didn’t purchase the right shampoo again, and I’ve told you at least ten times which brand I want”), talk about yourself and how you feel (“I get breakouts when I use other shampoos, so it’s really important you buy the right brand. When you don’t pay attention to getting the right shampoo, it really upsets me because I feel you don’t care about my health”).


3. Give yourself reminders

It’s easy to slip back into old habits. Remind yourself of your project by using a  bookmark that has your goals written on it, setting reminders in your calendar or having them pop up on your phone throughout the day, or teaming up with your partner so they can remind you when you fall back into old patterns.


4. Learn from your experiences and be forgiving of yourself.

Ask yourself how things went. What was particularly hard? Is there anything you could do differently next time? How can you make things easier for yourself? Act on what you’ve learned. And most importantly, be forgiving of yourself. What’s most important is that you’re trying, and not that you are perfect. We all make mistakes, but it’s those mistakes that help us learn.

Ready to give it a try? Here are some tips on how to get started.

Or, you can spend some more time pondering how you generally think about your partner.


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