How Do I Break the Negative Cycle of Relating to My Partner?

How Do I Break the Negative Cycle of Relating to My Partner? January 21, 2019

Dear Terry,

How can my husband and I break the negative ways we relate to each other? There’s a lot of advice out there about being more positive with each other but not much about stopping negative interactions. We are at our wit’s end and considering divorce after 15 years of marriage. But we want to stop bickering and have a happier marriage so we can raise our two daughters in a peaceful home.

Please help me if you can!



Dear Danielle,

I appreciate your situation and many couples struggle with the problem of stopping the blame game and getting back to feeling good about their marriage. I recommend that you try the suggestions below for about a month and if you don’t feel improvement, seek out an experienced couples counselor who can support you in your journey to restore love and harmony to your marriage.

First of all, it’s important to become conscious of your expectations. Dr. Brené Brown writes, “The fastest way for an expectation to morph into shame or resentment is for it to go unnoticed.” Dr. Brown also recommends that we drop our prerequisites for feeling worthy based on conditions – such as having our partner’s approval or a perfect relationship.

5 ways to break the negative cycle of relating to your partner:

1. Stop blaming your partner. Take responsibility for your part in a dispute. According to Dr. John Gottman , talking about specific issues will reap better results than attacking your partner. For instance, a complaint is: “I’m upset because you didn’t tell me about spending money on new clothes. We agreed to be open with each other and money is tight right now.” Versus a criticism: “You never tell me the truth. How can I trust you?”

2. Practice resolving conflicts as they arise and avoid stonewalling. Don’t put aside resentments that can destroy your relationship. Experiencing conflict is inevitable and couples who strive to avoid it are at risk of developing stagnant relationships. Dr.John Gottman recommends you avoid defensiveness and showing contempt for your partner (rolling your eyes, ridicule, name-calling, sarcasm, etc.). Engage in a conversation with your partner that is productive rather than shutting down. Sometimes couples can benefit from a short break before doing this.

3. Increase affection and try scheduling sexual intimacy twice a week – even if you’re not in the mood. According to author Dr. Kory Floyd, physical contact releases oxytocin (the bonding hormone) that reduces pain and causes a calming sensation. Studies show that it’s released during sexual orgasm and affectionate touch as well. Physical affection also reduces stress hormones – lowering daily levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

4. Remind yourself of your partner’s positive qualities – even as you struggle with their flaws – and express your positive feelings out loud several times each day. Dr. Gottman advises you to nurture fondness and admiration for your partner by searching for common ground rather than insisting on getting your way when you have a disagreement. Listen to their point of view and adopt Gottman’s rule of five- to-one ratio of interactions – meaning for every negative interaction, you need five positive ones.

5. Adopt realistic expectations of marriage and understand that a good committed relationship or marriage requires effort. The fantasy that there is a “perfect person” or soul mate and that good relationships should be easy can be damaging to your commitment to our partner.

It’s important to keep in mind is that realistic expectations and damage control can keep resentment from building and causing serious problems. The best way to create a relationship built on love, trust, an intimacy is to take responsibility for our own actions and to practice acceptance and compassion for our partner.

Twitter, Facebook, and, Terry’s award winning book Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship is available on her website.

I’d love to hear from you and answer your questions about relationships, divorce, marriage, and remarriage. Please ask a question here. Thanks! Terry 

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