Liking the Child You Love

How to build a better relationship with your kids—even when they're driving you crazy.

Stop Toxic Thoughts From Destroying Your Loving Relationship

Learning to dispute your toxic thoughts will help your marriage.

As described in my book, Why Can't You Read My Mind?, if relationship partners harbor internalized, hidden toxic thoughts, reflective listening drills may not evoke these underlying empathy depleting thoughts. For example, if a partner is saying "I need you to please pick up after yourself more often", yet inwardly thinking, "You are always gonna be a lazy slob" then paraphrases will likely not rid this toxic underlying belief. For a toxic thinking partner to benefit in this situation, he must first be willing to challenge his toxic thought. In this case, the way of disputing the toxic thought may be, "She brings me a lot of joy and loves me deeply but rigidly and disrespectfully expecting her to be neater is not fair. It will help me to remind myself that she is a very nurturing mother to our kids, cooks well, and really is sweet to my family."

When distressed couples first walk into my office they look like the walking wounded. They often cite that the problematic way they communicate with each other is the real reason they have relationship problems. While this explanation has some merit, they are often oblivious to something very much closer to themselves---their own toxic thoughts.

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I can't even count the number of times that couples share that they had seen a counselor in the past where they were told and instructed on how to do reflective listening. This exercise typically entails each person stating how her or she feels. The other partner then listens and paraphrases what was heard and receives feedback on how accurately he or she listened. I do think this exercise, which tends to be a "go to" activity for many couples therapists, can have considerable value.

Yes, this may not solve the problem of the partner being messy. At the same time, a heightened, emotionally laden barrage of inner toxic thoughts will likely result with the concerned partner signing up for the "bottle it up and explode later plan." Of course, we all know that is a not a productive, sane way to be in a loving relationship.

Many other toxic thoughts/statements begin with "Should." In this way we tend to "should" all over our relationship partners." If "Shoulds" are replaced with "Would Likes" the resulting toxic thoughts can be avoided.

Instead of, "You should know how I feel.", try thinking and saying, "I would like you to please hear me out on this."

Instead of, "You should give me more time to think about it.", try thinking and saying, "I would like to consider what you are asking, please let me sit with it for a little while."

It amazes me how toxic thoughts in couples occur so frequently and so often out of true awareness. Taking the time to be mindful, catch your toxic thoughts, and dispute/correct them will take you and your partner to a much better place in your relationship.

Jeffrey Bernstein, Ph.D.is a licensed psychologist specializing in child, adolescent, couples, and family therapy.

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