SALT LAKE CITY — In this edition of LIFEadvice, Coach Kim shares some tips for living with and loving a spouse who is negative or unhappy.
I love your book "Choosing Clarity." I work in it every morning and plan to for the rest of my life. I have a problem with my spouse, though. She goes on and on with negativity and has for 30 years. She claims it's a fact she is a loser and a failure. I just don't want to hear or validate that anymore. I could listen for hours, and she never moves to a more positive place. She recounts over and over every failure she can find. She is never interested in trying to see it a different way. She won't read your book or try anything to feel better. She has post-traumatic stress disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder. How do I proceed from here? I am so tired of it, and now she says I don't listen or care. I am just so tired of the same conversation that is so negative. What can I do?
This is hard since you cannot fix or change another person. No amount of begging, pleading or trying to solve it will ever change someone until they want to change. This can be discouraging and exhausting.
The good news is there are some things you can do to maintain your own positivity and encourage your partner to want to change themselves. Here are a few suggestions:
Don't try to fix it or be responsible for it
Most negative people want understanding about the pain they are in; they don't want a solution. They simply want you to know they are in pain, scared and unhappy. Your natural instinct will be to find a solution, but all they need you to say is "I am sorry your hurting. It sounds painful. I hate knowing your hurting because I love you."
Don't offer any solutions, especially if you have offered solutions in the past. Allow them to be where they are and be responsible for it. If you offer solutions, they may think that you're partly responsible for fixing it, which you cannot be. It's not your problem to fix, it is theirs.
Just affirm that you love and care for your spouse. If they ask why you aren't offering solutions anymore, tell them you realized they are the only person who can change it, and it's best to just love them where they are.
Stop trying to change them
The more you try to change someone, the more they will dig in and insist on staying where they are. They want to be loved and accepted where they are right now, even when they are really hard to live with. If they can feel you are disappointed in them and wish they were different, they will resist any change even more.
Stop saying or acting like you want anything different. This creates a space where they will be more open to change.
Use the encouragement technique
You cannot change another person, but you can encourage them when they want to change themselves. This is how it works: Imagine the way you want your spouse to think and behave. Make a list of the qualities you wish they possessed and the way you wish they behaved if they were being their best. Then, look for any signs of that kind of behavior. When you see it, make sure you mention how awesome they are.
Be specific and tell them how wonderful it is that they are acting more positive and happy now. Tell them what an upbeat, positive person they are being.
The goal is to show them this is the person you see when you look at them. People always want to live up to your highest opinion of them, so they may decide to be like this on their own. Just make sure any comment you make is positive and don't respond to the negative behavior at all.
Change your belief about human value and make it the language in your home
The only way this person will feel different or think differently about themselves and their life is if they do some work to change their beliefs.
We all currently have a belief that we might not be good enough. It sounds like your partner even believes she is a total failure. This is not a fact, just a belief. It comes from a deep foundational belief that human value can change and has to be earned. As long as a person believes that, they will always feel "not good enough."
The best way to change self-esteem for every member of your family is to teach them a new, better belief – that all human beings have the same, unchangeable, intrinsic worth and there is nothing they can do to change that. Talk about this new belief often with your family and make it the language in your home. Your partner will start to get it if you talk about it often.
You could also offer to encourage them to work with a coach or counselor if they want to better understand the principle. It's better to let them learn it on their own with their private coach than for you to try to teach it to them.
Encourage your family to have compassion for others
The way you judge other people is always tied to the way you judge yourself. If you are hard on yourself, chances are you are also hard on others and quick to see their faults as diminishing their value. As long as you do that, you will also see your own faults as diminishing your value. So, if you encourage compassion for others and really work on seeing them as good enough, you will also grow in love for yourself.
Help your family to trust the journey as your perfect classroom
Share with your family the idea that we are on the planet to learn and grow, and the universe is a wise teacher bringing the perfect lessons we need every day. This means when we have failures, they don't change our value; they are just lessons here to teach us something.
Talk about this principle often in your home and let your spouse hear it. Don't preach it or try to teach it to them, though. Just talk about it as something you believe.
Understand this partner can be your perfect classroom
We tend to surround ourselves with people who can become good teachers in our journey. I wonder if this partner struggling with this issue can be the perfect spouse for you. What can you learn?
If you keep asking this question, the universe will provide an answer. Maybe it's to learn to love others when they are hard to love. Maybe it's about loving yourself or trusting God more. When you see your spouse as part of your perfect classroom, you can have more patience with and compassion for them.
(Note: This suggestion is not meant to be applied in situations that involve abuse. If you feel unsafe because you experience emotional, mental or physical abuse, you must seek outside help.)
See your spouse as scared, not negative
By attaching negative labels to your spouse, you're more likely to have less compassion for and experience more frustration with them. It would be more accurate — and more helpful — to see them as scared and lacking some skills and tools than to see them as a negative person. Your spouse is just a person who is struggling because they don't know a better way to process their life, but that doesn't affect their value at all.
Have some boundaries when you need them
Lovingly tell your spouse that you are sorry they are hurting and you love them. But it's also OK to let them know you can handle about five more minutes of negative talk, and then you'll need to either focus on some positives or leave the room. Make sure they know this isn't about them, but about what you need to stay balanced today yourself.
You can do this.