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.
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.
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?