Wife threatens divorce after becoming fed up with husband's “toxic positivity”


**This is a work of nonfiction based on actual events as told to me by a close friend, who experienced them firsthand; used with permission.

There’s a lot of marriage advice out there. Some of it is good, and some of it is not.

One of the more popular words of wisdom goes something like this, “happy wife, happy life.” And while some husbands would agree, I know at least one man who would beg to differ.

My friend from high school found himself with an unhappy life, with an unhappy wife. All because he was “too positive.” At least that’s what his wife said.

“She said that my ‘flowery advice,’ her words, not mine, was toxic,” he said. “I was just trying to be supportive, and she saw it as unhealthy.”

Whenever she asked him how she looked or tried to discuss work stuff, he would give her an honest, positive-leaning response. And she hated him for it.

“I have to admit, she won’t win any prizes for optimism, that’s for sure,” he told me. “But I love her, so I try to be encouraging.”

Unfortunately, his encouragement was met with resentment, and his wife threatened divorce if he didn’t stop giving her “flowery advice.”

So he stopped. Now, he just grunts in response to her questions, and sometimes he answers her questions with the obligatory “what do you think?” Now and then, he throws in a sideways comment like, “Geez, you’re asking me?”

Believe it or not, she seems content with his new way of communicating, but he’s confused. “I’m just not sure why she wanted me to stop being supportive,” he said. “It’s not like I was telling her what to do. I was just trying to help.”

What is toxic positivity?

“We define toxic positivity as the excessive and ineffective overgeneralization of a happy, optimistic state across all situations. The process of toxic positivity results in the denial, minimization, and invalidation of the authentic human emotional experience.” — The Psychology Group

In short, toxic positivity is when you try to force happiness and positivity in every situation, regardless of how someone is feeling. Which I imagine is how my friend’s wife must have felt.

“It’s not that I don’t appreciate your support. Sometimes, I just wish you could be a little more realistic,” she told him.

And while I don’t know if his bandaid solution will hold, I do know that my friend seems to have taken his wife’s not-so-subtle hint.

Other toxic positivity examples.

The phrase toxic positivity appears to be an oxymoron, but it’s real. Here are some examples of toxic positivity that you may have heard before:

“Just be grateful for what you have.”

“Everything happens for a reason.”

“Just think positive thoughts, and everything will work out.”

“Look on the bright side.”

“Don’t dwell on the negative.”

“Don’t sweat the small stuff.”

As you can see, many of these phrases seem harmless enough, but they can be pretty hurtful to someone who is going through a tough time.

For example, if you’ve just lost your job, it’s not helpful to hear “just be grateful for what you have.” Yes, gratitude is important, but at that moment, it’s OK to feel upset, scared, and angry.

And while positivity can be a good thing, acknowledging your true feelings is also helpful. After all, if you bottle up your emotions, they may eventually come out in an unhealthy way.

So the next time you’re tempted to say something “positive” to someone who is struggling, think twice. Unless you know that it will be helpful, it’s best to listen and be there rather than try to “fix” the situation with platitudes.

Have you ever been on the receiving end of toxic positivity? How did it make you feel? Let us know in the comments!

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Intimacy & Relationship coach, writer, and creator of The Sensuality Project. I specialize in Relationship-ing (it's a verb).

Los Angeles County, CA

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