Last week as I was traveling home from an appointment, I decided to e-mail my friends to see how their marriage was going. After a few texts back and forth, I had to call her on the phone, since I was in the car. As soon as she picked up, she asked me this question, “What if I just divorced my husband and we stayed together?” It through me for a loop a bit, but I responded. “How would that help.” She replied, “Everything was great until we got married.”
I am sure at some point their marriage was good, but what had now changed was their thoughts about marriage. They were different. They had become toxic.
According to Jeffrey Bernstein, Ph.D, and Susan Magee authors of Why Can’t You Read My Mind, toxic thinking is negative thinking that have lost their basis in reality and have gotten out of control, causing you to lose your perspective. Toxic thinking is the extreme version of negative thinking. Good example of this is instead of saying I don’t like how I look which is more negative thinking, your thoughts are twisted, distorted highly negative like I’m ugly, No one finds me attractive, or I’ll always be fat.
So how does a marriage/relationship become toxic? First our society in general creates a toxic environment. When you watch the news, what do you see. They focus their article on being in the 40 to 50 percent range. This automatically can lend to toxic thinking because you can quickly internalize your marriage is doomed for failure, especially if you compare yourself to your neighbor whom you feel have an awesome marriage. The news could easily stress a 50% success rate in marriage, but they don’t.
Secondly, toxic thinking derails genuine communication. If you have toxic thoughts toward your marriage your communication will be based on those thoughts. Your whole communication approach which includes verbal and non-verbal communication will not reflect the way you want it to be, it will reflect the toxic thoughts that are at the surface.
Thirdly, toxic thinking creates a relationship Three-D effect, distraction, distance and disconnection. You become distracted because toxic thinking keeps you from focusing on the real issues at hand. You might consider your spouse and All or Nothing spouse, whereby everything they do is negative. This can create a huge distraction because you focus your entire energy on their behavior and not the issues. Your distractions will lend itself to frustration and will increase distance between one another.
To avoid dealing with these thoughts on a daily basis, we will do things to create a distance, work longer hours, join more social groups, or spend more hours on facebook just to give our brain and our toxic thoughts a break.
The problem with this according to Bernstein is when distance starts settling in, partners usually either lash out with more toxic talk or shut down into toxic silence. This is what happened to the spouse of my friend. In the e-mail message he sent me he stated “I don’t know..We just aren’t on the same page at all. Her and I need to start from scratch because we don’t even know what each other wants.” In essence, no matter what I say or do..it doesn’t help.
If you stay distant long enough it can lead to disconnection. This is the most dangerous stage because it keep you from acknowledging and understanding your spouse’s point of view and vice-versa. At this point someone has to wave the white flag and seek coaching/counseling otherwise the next steps may lead to being part of the statistic they report on the news.