Morning friend,

Let me ask you a question that I’ve been pondering this week. Are you living each day doing what you want, or what someone else requires or wants?  For example, if you want to spend time reading, or doing art, or taking a walk, do you do it?  Or do you tend to defer to what other people want/need from you?  There’s a time and place to serve. But is there also a time and place for you to refresh yourself?  Let me know what you think.

Today’s Question:  My husband is chronically complaining and often in a bad mood. He finds something wrong with everything and frequently has a pity party for himself. I don’t know how to help him or even how to live with him in a godly way. I don’t want him to ruin our family life for our children. What can I do?

Answer. It is extremely difficult to live with a negative person. I call it victim mindset. People with victim mindset aren’t necessarily victims of anything horrible, (although they can be) but habitually blame everything but themselves for how they feel and the actions they take or don’t take.

Often men who are negative are clinically depressed have this tendency, and I hope you have checked out that possibility with a professional. However, some folks are just habitually negative and don’t understand how miserable they make themselves as well as the toxic effect they have on others. Bad moods and negative attitudes are contagious like COVID and you will need to do some things to protect yourself and your children from catching it. 

But you asked if there is something you can do to help him? The answer is yes and no. Yes, you can help him if he wants help with his negativity and sees it as his problem. No, if he is locked into victim mindset. This kind of person will never see anything as his problem to fix or solve and blames you or the universe for everything that doesn’t go the way he thinks it should.

You might try talking with him about his negativity, but I suspect you’ve tried that already with more negative results. We all are somewhat blind to our shortcomings, and this is true for a negative person as well. [Tweet “You can’t change something you choose not to see.”]

However, another approach would be to help him see what his negative outlook costs him. When someone is chronically negative they are miserable, but what the negative person doesn’t grasp is that the external problem – his job, the weather, or traffic, or his childhood, or nasty neighbors, is not the main problem. Rather, it’s his internal attitude. It’s the way he habitually thinks about life and responds when he doesn’t get what he wants or what he feels he deserves. [Tweet “When nothing is right on the inside, then nothing can be right on the outside.”]

No one thinks or feels positively in every situation nor is it always beneficial to do so. But what our mind and emotions habitually dwell on directly affects our mood, our attitude and our behavior. When we regularly brood on things that we don’t like or that are wrong, painful, negative or hurtful, we can’t feel happy. It’s impossible. The psalmist cried out, “My thoughts trouble me and I am distraught” (Psalm 55:2). 

Constantly complaining and comparing one’s lot in life to others more fortunate causes us to feel upset and unhappy. God has hardwired our thoughts to be influenced by our feelings and our emotions are directly impacted by the thoughts we think. Dallas Willard, in his excellent book on spiritual formation, Renovation of the Heart said, “If we allow certain negative thoughts to obsess us, then their associated feelings can enslave and blind us—that is, take over our ability to think and perceive.” 

It’s important that you don’t take responsibility for his feelings or cater to his bad moods. That will reinforce his belief that you’re responsible to make him happy or fix his life, which of course is impossible. 

When he vomits his negativity on you, do your best to shake it off as quickly as possible. Don’t retaliate. Don’t brood. And don’t get caught in your own pity party because you’re married to this kind of man. Distance yourself from him when he’s in this state so there is no secondary gain for him. Do something positive for yourself and the children (if they live at home with you).

When something fun comes up, if he doesn’t want to participate do it without him. By doing this, you are living your life instead of trying to get him to live his.  You’re respecting his choice, but you’re also making a conscious choice to steward your emotions and not catch his bad mood. That’s not disloyal or unloving, that’s good stewardship of you. Just like if your husband had COVID-19 you’d wear a mask and gloves and sleep in a different bedroom so hopefully you would not catch it too.

By choosing differently even in the same circumstances, you are modeling to him that you do have choices to make. You can make lemons out of lemonade and you refuse to collude with his own victim mindset. That may not affect him but it will help you not be infected by his negativity. And if you find yourself sinking into his negative pit, get some professional help for yourself. 

Friend, how do you protect your own heart and mind when you’re around a negative person?

27 Comments

  1. R on February 24, 2021 at 7:51 am

    Something I didn’t realize for a very long time is that it’s also ok to set a boundary: “We are going to the zoo today. I would love for you to join us if you can stay positive and be pleasant. If you feel too grumpy to be able to make that promise, I will take the kids there on my own.”

    • Kathy Wilkinson on February 24, 2021 at 11:25 am

      Now that’s a healthy boundary. I can tell you’ve done your work. Way to go!

      • R on February 24, 2021 at 6:55 pm

        Thanks. It took way too long. My kids were too old for zoo outings by the time I finally learned.

        • JoAnn on March 1, 2021 at 10:35 am

          I’m sorry about that, but I hope that by now you can go out for a cup of coffee with a friend without him shaming you for it. Good boundaries are vital in any relationship.

  2. Debby on February 24, 2021 at 12:21 pm

    I’ve never met a negative person who wasn’t also a manipulative bully, some more overt, some more change very. I am concerned that this answer may lead a victim to feel she has NO out and is trapped with a life sucking, soul-sucking self centered person who has no concept of “love, honor, and cherish.” She needs to know that negativity CAN certainly fall into the category of abuse and what steps she can take if it does. Taking your feelings and mindset out on another person (usually a “weaker” person who they have power over) IS abuse and is very destructive. A perpetually negative person absolutely needs someone to blame and if it’s “your fault” they feel entitled to get angry and abusive.

    Nobody is required to live with that!

  3. Arloa Ten Kley on February 24, 2021 at 12:37 pm

    So true! I also find it easy to use my husband’s (or other important person) negativity and bad mood as an excuse for me to be in a bad mood, or do something self-destructive (overeat, overspend, be nasty back.) I had to recognize this and take responsibility for my own mood and actions. I can choose to remove myself from the environment short-term, i.e. go grocery shopping, go buy coffee, or remove myself mentally by focusing on something creative or getting absorbed into a book. I did (and do) need professional help. I also try to take sometime for longer breaks by going to visit friends/family who live a distance away and being gone long enough to remember what ‘normal’ is. Of course, with the pandemic this has been mostly impossible, and I’ve had to practice more self-care, grounding things like breathing, centering prayer, It is a constant balancing act to stay respectful of his choices, but not enable his bad attitude, and not let his choices dictate my choices. Yet, God is “a very present help in trouble.” (and a constant complainer is trouble!)

    • JoAnn on March 1, 2021 at 10:31 am

      Arloa, it sounds like you are “staying well” in this situation. Self care is so very important when living with a difficult person. Good for you!

  4. Free on February 24, 2021 at 3:42 pm

    In my opinion, he has already ruined your family and your life. How selfish of him to behave in such an entitled, self absorbed manner! Why do you stay in such an oppressive relationship? Are you having trouble valuing yourself? This guy needs consequences ASAP. Change his tune or he won’t be keeping company with you anytime soon.

  5. H on February 24, 2021 at 10:22 pm

    Leslie, what is the possibility there could be suppressed trauma in a situation like this? Sometimes people complain about external things instead of dealing with something internal that is bothering them, or they feel grumpy and out of sorts, but maybe haven’t identification why.

    • Leslie Vernick on February 25, 2021 at 10:46 am

      There is a good possibility of that but that makes it no less draining on the spouse having to listen to his negativity all of the time. And, sometimes it’s used as an “excuse” for acting out. “This happened to me and therefore I can’t help it. I have no choices” but he does have choices. To get help for his negativity or the causes (trauma) of it.

    • Free on February 27, 2021 at 9:04 am

      H, did you sign up to be a trauma dumping can or a partner? His problem is his responsibility, not yours. He can figure out his own issues if he wants to. Boundaries, dear, Boundaries. You have to decide what you need and want from this relationship as is, not what could be.

  6. Hannah on February 25, 2021 at 12:26 pm

    I am wondering if you have any recommended resources for a wife to give to her husband, in order to better help him understand his emotionally destructive/abusive behaviors. Is there a Christian resource (article, video, podcast, etc.) written directly to the abusive husband, that details the specific behaviors that he can identify within himself? I see a lot of blogs/articles written to women, but I have not yet found one written to Christian men to help them identify such behaviors. My husband is not physically violent or abusive, but he has emotionally abusive tendencies. I know that he would be willing to read such resources if they are available. Thank you.

    • Free on February 27, 2021 at 8:57 am

      Don’t bother Hannah. He knows exactly what he is doing. Have you read Lundy Bancroft’s book “Why Does He Do That?” It is an essential first read for both of you. My abusive spouse read it and had what Lundy says is the most common response from abusive male readers. He said “Lundy told all his secrets.”

      Please know that your abusive spouse isn’t physical….yet. As long as you keep complying to his control, he doesn’t have to up his power game. No abusive relationship is good. The only solution is to get out. Make a plan. It is going to hurt to leave, but if he is ever going to change (very unlikely) he’ll do it better with out you in his life.

      Read Lundy’s book “Should I Stay or Should I Go?”, too. Listen to Pastor Wade Mullens you tube lecture on evil and while you are at it, google Patrick Doyle too.

      Best wishes in your journey. It will be a difficult one. Your spouse is using you and sees you as an object despite what you have been manipulated to believe.

    • Free on February 27, 2021 at 9:02 am

      Don’t think my reply posted.

      Lundy Bancroft’s book “Why Does he Do That?”. Then you need to read his book “Should I Stay or Should I Go?”

      Don’t be deluded. He knows what he is doing. He isn’t physical yet, because you are pretty easy to control and he generally gets what he wants from you.

    • JoAnn on March 1, 2021 at 10:27 am

      Hannah, you say that your h has “emotionally abusive tendencies.” I think it important for you to discern if he is being intentionally hurtful, or it he is just clueless about how his behavior is affecting you and others. If he is clueless, then for you to learn appropriate responses that let him know that his behavior is hurtful, and that you will not tolerate it, will help him to adjust his behavior, and maybe even develop some empathy. On the other hand, if he is being intentionally demeaning and hurtful, then Free’s advice may apply. In either case, the books will help you to see more clearly what’s going on. You do not deserve to be abused in any way.
      Patricia Evans wrote “The Verbally Abusive Relationship” that might give more understanding, also.

      • Autumn on March 5, 2021 at 8:04 pm

        Carol his lung cancer may take his life and you will finally get yours!!

      • JoAnn on March 8, 2021 at 10:31 pm

        Carol, I sympathize with what you are going through, but I do want to encourage you to set some boundaries on your husband’s behavior. Even though he is dealing with chemo, that does not give him the right to be verbally abusive. you can require him to treat you with respect as you care for his needs while he is in chemo. In fact, this might be a good time for him to examine his life and how his behavior has affected others. [ “What do you hope people will say about you at your funeral?”]
        So, as you do what you need to do to take care of his needs, but not necessarily his wants or demands, set limits on what you will do and what you will not tolerate. This is what it means to “guard your heart.” It is not unkind to not allow him to be unkind to you.
        May the Lord supply you with His abundant grace to get through this.

  7. Kathy Wilkinson on March 1, 2021 at 11:14 am

    Agree Hannah, you are worth living your best life regardless of what h does or doesn’t do. If you have to give up being yourself to stay in that relationship, it’s death! Sorry, just being real after coming out of denial for so many years. I’m glad to still be around to share what became the truth that set me free!

  8. mary.cator@sheridancollege.ca on March 3, 2021 at 12:46 pm

    This is very eye opening for me. My husband is a very negative, grumpy, complaining spouse. We’ve been together for almost 35 years. It has been quite a long process to have my eyes opened (I asked God to open my eyes and he did) My husband hasn’t changed, his verbal outbursts always come when least expected. Our children are now 32 and 30 (and unfortunately our often now speaks in negative tones just like his dad) I read Why does he do that? a few years ago and have pick it up off and on, but every time I read it I get a sick feeling in the pit of stomach as I read all the familiar traits of my husband. Even though I am very much aware, it is difficult to find the courage to bring this up to him, as he does not believe he is every wrong (I am a Christian and he is not, although he says he may believe in something) One of the things I came to realize is that I am a very people pleasing type of person. When we got married, everything was based on his wishes, and that is another part of the challenge. I have become much more assertive over the years, but it is not enough for him to see his negativity.

    • Free on March 4, 2021 at 3:28 pm

      I wouldn’t recommend you bring anything up to him. He is not going to change, but you can. I imagine you survived this long complying to his wishes. That is how you survived a marriage to a miserable selfish man. Complaining is a selfish act. What can you do to remove yourself from his diatribes and invest in something you enjoy? Read Lundy’s book, “Should I Stay or Should I go?”

  9. Kathy Wilkinson on March 5, 2021 at 8:55 pm

    Carol, you can’t be quiet enough or cheerful enough to change you h. It’s his choice. Save yourself from further abuse and take care of you.

  10. Nancy on March 21, 2021 at 8:54 pm

    What you wrote Leslie about not taking responsibility for his feelings or catering to his bad moods is critical.

    This past summer I began to see, by the Grace of God, that I got overinvolved in my h’s struggles. In particular with his work. I suddenly began to see how negative he was and how heavy things would get when he’d bring up one of his struggles.

    I began to see how much time and energy we both put into these. For my part, I was actually trying to take responsibility for his feelings. I would come away feeling frustrated and down and he would feel unheard.

    For his part he believed that I was responsible for his negative emotions. We both believed that. I think that we both mistook this type of exchange for emotional intimacy.

    I found myself saying to him that me choosing to listen to his struggles is a gift. I could choose to give it, or not. Feeling entitled to be given a gift is a problem on his part, and me feeling that I was obliged to give a gift was a problem on my part.

    I did all of what Leslie recommends above. The hardest part is waking away from the misplaced guilt. I clearly remember the turning point when I did not allow his ‘hurt feelings’ at my ‘not listening’ to him, to affect me negatively. My daughter and I were on our way out and I was not going to let his mood affect my time with her. I was able to leave those feelings with him.

    Since then, I am learning that I’m a pretty good humoured person. I am pretty upbeat, generally. I love to laugh.

    I’m wondering how much of my tendency to depression was mine, and how much was his….

    I’m also learning that my husband is a grown man who can handle his emotions, and when he can’t he now brings his negative stuff to his brothers in Christ who are happy to keep him accountable.

    This past week I found myself thinking about how much my h has changed in this regard. He isn’t ‘wounded’ by what I say anymore. He used to get wounded or offended often, by something I said.

    It’s crazy how freeing this one change has been.

    Praise God!

  11. Tom on March 23, 2021 at 11:15 am

    What if your spouse has the victim mindset and claims that you are emotionally abusive/destructive…. but you don’t agree and others don’t agree and would say its the other way around? In my opinion we have a disappointing marriage. We have both strayed and broken our marriage vows, however mine are highlighted and exposed while hers remain in the dark. Any time I want to talk about our marriage I am deemed unrepentant and unsafe. We have 3 young children and she has filed for divorce. I want to work on our marriage but we don’t for the sake of safety and healing. After all, I am the abuser and she is the victim. Where does the victim mindset change from healthy (abuser/victim) to unhealthy (complaining/depression)?

    • Leslie Vernick on March 24, 2021 at 11:39 am

      If you can’t discuss things safely then continue to do your own work and invite her to do her own work so that the possibility of safety and reconciliation is possible.

  12. Mona Derrick on April 6, 2021 at 2:06 pm

    Hello, I have been married for 33 years and it has been a rough road. My husband is so indifferent and non-caring. He has nothing to say…to me or to our 2 children. No words of advice or comfort. His mother is narcissistic and is verbally abusive to me and our children. My husband does nothing about it. He will not stand up for us. Without his help, I have had to teach my children how to stand for the truth while having the right attitude about it. Stating the truth is not wrong. Setting boundaries is not wrong. This can be done while being respectful, also. My husband and his mom always try to make us feel guilty for disagreeing or for standing up for ourselves. My father-in-law just lowers his head and leaves the room when his wife starts to berate one of us. I’ve had to tell her that until she can be more patient and less angry, I won’t be around her. The kids, age 24 and 19, have told her the same thing. They feel so hurt by her angry accusations and we three feel very hurt that my husband just stands aside and lets it happen. I’ve lost respect for him. I’ve pleaded with him for years. I’ve cried and pleaded. Now I am just numb. I have moved out and started working again and I really love the peace in my home now. I guess he and I will just live separate lives from now on. I feel very sad about the situation. I hate that it has to be this way, but I don’t know what else to do. I actually thought I was going to lose my mind, dealing with him and his mother.

  13. Simona on October 31, 2021 at 4:23 pm

    Dear Leslie.
    Thank you for a beautiful explanation. It lifted my spirit as I recently felt being more and more effected by my husband’s negativity and not being in my full health myself, it was really bringing me down. Your article has given me great hope and a wonderful tool to keep my positivity and enjoy my life. Bless you.

  14. Johm on April 18, 2022 at 10:22 am

    This is awesome advise! I will try it. (Sometimes easier said than done, but I’ll do my best.)
    I am literally in this exact situation. I am (or at least was) a very positive person, before I got married several years ago. I am married to a very negative person, who definitely lives in the victim mindset. To be frank, the only reason we are even together is our two daughters. Even with that, we are constantly on the verge of splitting due to her over the top negativity. It has drained the life out of me.
    This is awesome advise! I will try it. Sometimes easier said than done, but I’ll do my best.

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