“You never listen!” I found myself whisper-yelling at my husband in an IKEA parking lot so our daughter wouldn’t overhear.
“I do too!” he hissed through gritted teeth. “You didn’t tell me a time!”
We were both tired and irritable. It’d been a long day, and though I believed I’d told him that we needed to meet family at a certain time, he was emphatic I hadn’t (later, he turned out to be right). We loaded everything into our car, and my husband slipped into the driver’s seat and hightailed it.
Things were tense until much later. Without realizing it, I’d fallen into the trap so many couples do because they get mired in their own irritations and resentments against one another.
Falling into the trap of “all-or-nothing” thinking is the quickest way to kill love in any good relationship.
They always forget to take the trash out!
They never want to have sex!
Also called “splitting” or “black-or-white thinking”, this is when you stop seeing someone as a composite of both their positive and negative qualities, instead seeing them as either all good or all bad.
If I’d given any thought to my husband’s listening abilities before I snapped, “You never listen!” I wouldn’t have said it because it wouldn’t have been true. My husband is a great listener, and it’s one of the many reasons I was first so attracted to him.
Too often though, we may get caught up in “all-or-nothing” thinking, and woe to our partner (and the health and happiness of our relationship!) when that happens. Our partner suddenly can’t do anything right, and every time they mess up, no matter how small, it just re-confirms our misguided beliefs about them.
If this pattern continues, even a good relationship will quickly deterioate.
While we all sometimes exaggerate, the real harm comes when we start chronically seeing our partner or our relationship negatively. One way to start addressing this type of thinking is to pay close attention to your word choices.
We most often use the word “always” in a negative context. While it may feel accurate, is it really? If you feel or think that your partner is “always” late, is that true, or have they just been late a lot lately or maybe they had some extenuating circumstances going on?
Unfortunately, this word keeps you stuck in a cycle of believing things can’t improve or from extending your partner patience and understanding.
While it’s the opposite of “always,” it doesn’t do any less damage. “Never” is just as inflexible and unforgivable, giving your partner no room for mistakes. Does your partner really never support you? Will things really never get better? (Well, yeah, if you keep thinking like that…)
“This relationship can’t be fixed.” “He was supposed to do ______, but I can’t count on him to do anything.”
The word “can’t” implies helplessness and hopelessness. While it can be used, when we get stuck using it too often, we tend to overgeneralize and make what could be possible into the impossible.
“Well, tonight’s ruined,” my first husband said to me one night after we’d bickered on the way home from a date.
“What are you talking about? It was just one little fight!” I retorted.
But, he was right. The night was ruined because, instead of working to come back from it, he decided to go play a video game in the living room and ignore me, and I went to bed alone.
The word “ruined” implies something is irreparable, and if we think something’s broken and unfixable, why bother trying?
“Something’s totally wrong with her.” “He’s a total asshole when he gets mad.”
People aren’t wholly one thing or another. They’re made up of a lot of little parts. Yeah, your lady may have been extra snippy lately, but maybe it’s just because she’s going through a hard time at work. He may turn into a jerk when he’s mad, but is that all he is?
When you jump from seeing a character trait or aspect of your partner as indicative of the whole of them, it blinds you to seeing anything else about them. Instead of wearing rose-colored glasses, you’re seeing the person you fell in love with through shit-smeared ones.
“He used to compliment me when we first started dating, but he doesn’t do it anymore.”
“Anymore” is one of those words we use when we’re moaning over how things “used” to be and “aren’t” now. It implies that things have changed for the worse and denies you the opportunity to have hope for the future.
When you find yourself using some of these words, you’d be better off taking a step back, assessing, and reframing. Does your partner really never/always/totally/anymore says/does/is_____? Can whatever be salvaged? Is it possible you’ve fallen into toxic overgeneralizing?
Your partner deserves as much love, patience, understanding, and kindness as you would want from them. Unfortunately, “all-or-nothing” thinking is an easy way to develop resentments and forget all of your partner’s good qualities. Keep it in check by paying attention to your thinking and what you say to and about your partner.
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