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Fall Back in Love by Doing This!

Making your love stronger by overcoming those toxic thoughts

Do you see your intimate partner in an overly negative light? If so, this is likely influenced by your having toxic thoughts about him or her. The way to develop healthy alternatives to your toxic thoughts is simple: You need to gather evidence to dispute them.

Toxic thoughts, as I describe in my relationship book, Why Can't You Read My Mind?, are simply distorted explanations for how you experience your partner’s actions, words, and behaviors. What most people don’t ever realize (but how exciting that now you will!) is that challenging your toxic thoughts with sound, positive, alternative explanations based on evidence and not emotion will make your relationship stronger and more rewarding.

You’ve probably heard the saying, “Put your money where your mouth is,” meaning “prove it.” When it comes to toxic thoughts like “He’s constantly criticizing me,” I say put your money where your mouth, is but with a twist. I ask that prove that your partner is not always criticizing you.

Wait a minute! Shouldn’t that be the other way around? Don’t you need to prove that he is constantly criticizing you? No, and here’s the reason: Once you’re in the throes of toxic thinking, you’re already going to be so honed in on evidence that supports your toxic claim that he’s constantly critical (He told you last week that you talk too much and the week before he said you’re always frowning…) Instead, you need to gather evidence against your toxic thoughts by challenging your interpretation of your partner’s words or actions. As you take this critical step, keep the following in mind:

Come up with at least three exceptions to the behavior. Toxic thoughts tend to be all encompassing. So whatever types of toxic thoughts you are having, find exceptions to the rule. It is unlikely your partner is always insensitive or a complete loser.

Kent felt that Jerome, his partner of several years, was “a complete bull in a china shop when it comes to emotional issues. He always says the worst possible thing. It’s like he’s trying to upset me on purpose.” However, when Kent was encouraged to think of exceptions to Jerome’s lack of emotional sensitivity, it wasn’t all that difficult: “Jerome was very attentive, sensitive, and understanding during my mother’s death. He’s also supportive when I’m having stress at work and he’s been a constant source of strength since my father disowned me when I came out.”

Kent couldn’t help but admit that in many ways, Jerome is a solid emotional partner. After all, it’s hard to ignore the evidence. Kent was able to lose his anger toward Jerome. He was empowered to learn how to ask his partner to be there for him rather than get stuck in a toxic thought quagmire of All or Nothing and Label Slinging.

Like Kent, you too will feel empowered in your relationship when you look for the exceptions to the toxic rule. One or two examples may convince you, but three or even more is best. The more evidence you can get, the easier it will be to refute your toxic thoughts.

Pretend you’re an unbiased third party. Imagine that you’ve been hired as an outside, objective expert who has been called to testify in court and support his or her partner on areas of conflict. By developing arguments in support of your partner’s position, you become empathetic. As I discuss in greater detail later on, empathy is the ability to understand your partner’s point of view or position. A deeper understanding of your partner’s position on points of conflict will often help remove the roadblocks and the underlying toxic thoughts associated with them. This empathy-promoting exercise can be used by both of you to counter other types of toxic thoughts as well. Empathy—especially deep empathy—is the emotional glue that hold relationships together. It is also a very important skill for couples to have to strengthen their relationships. To really help you get into this mindset, imagine that you are being given $50,000 to find the evidence to defend your partner against your toxic accusations. (Wouldn’t that be nice!)

Write it down. It will help you to see your evidence in black and white. Magic can occur when you put your positive thoughts down on paper. Think about how good it feels when you’ve had positive things written down about you. Remember the teachers who gave you good grades and those who made positive comments about your efforts and creativity? How good did that feel? Pretty darn good! (In contrast, think back to how it hurt to see a poor grade or not so positive comments in red ink.) Writing down positive statements about your partner expands your mindfulness of the positive aspects of your relationship. Try it first on yourself. It’s okay, I’m giving you permission to toot your own horn. So go ahead—write down some specific positive things about yourself. It could be anything that matters to you, like the time you volunteered at your son’s school or the appreciation you get from other parents for coaching your daughter’s soccer team. Or, your list may include how you’re seen as a team player and a problem solver at work. If doing this helps you feel good about yourself (admit it because you know it does), why not give this gift to your partner? When it comes to your partner, the more positives your write, the more you’ll see him or her in a positive light.

To overcome toxic thoughts that get in the way of parenting see 10 Days to a Less Defiant Child

To learn more about Dr. Jeff see,

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