In this blog series, we are discussing four fighting patterns that are
extremely destructive to relationships. If you want to read more about these
patterns as well as many other marriage communication techniques, check out Fighting
for Your Marriage.
Read Part 1 about Escalation
and Part 2 about Invalidation.
This time we’ll discuss Negative Interpretations.
Destructive Pattern #3 – Negative Interpretations
Negative interpretations takes place when one person consistently
believes that the other person’s motives for doing something are more negative,
hurtful or insidious than they actually are. To put it simply: You are guilty
of negative interpretations if you regularly assume you know someone’s motives,
that he or she is out to get you.
“When relationships become more distressed, the negative
interpretations mount and help create an environment of hopelessness and
demoralization,” says Fighting
for Your Marriage. Many times, couples will be so distant and
mistrusting of each other’s motivations that hardly anything they do will be
positively accepted by the other.
Here is an example:
ELLEN: (frustrated) You’re
dragging mud into the house again.
JOSIAH: I’m sorry! I forgot to take my
ELLEN: Yeah, again. How many times do I
have to tell you to take your shoes off when you come home from work?
JOSIAH: (irritated) I’m sorry; I
forgot! I didn’t do it on purpose. I am so tired when I get home from work that
I sometimes get distracted and forget. It’s not like I do it on purpose to
ELLEN: (bitterly) I think that is
exactly what you do! You know how much I don’t like you wearing your shoes in
the house, yet you do it over and over again. It is as if you keep telling me
that you don’t love me! It’s a slap in the face every time! Why do you keep
JOSIAH: (angrily) That is a bunch
of nonsense! I am not trying to hurt you! I remember most of the time, too. You
just don’t remember! I forget once in a while, and you go off the wall.
ELLEN: (angrily sarcastic) Only
once in a while, huh? What a liar! And you only remember to take your shoes off
when I remind you!
JOSIAH: (fuming) You know what? I
don’t have to take this. No matter what I say or do, you will never be
The root for these kinds of arguments can be extremely difficult to find and
exterminate. They might seem like a petty squabble, but it can have extreme consequences
to the makeup of the relationship.
It does not matter how truthful Josiah is being about his motivations for
failing to take his shoes off, Ellen is completely convinced that he is doing
it to spite her. Ellen is being influenced by something called confirmation
bias. This term describes the phenomenon that someone who has an
assumption about a person or a situation will look for and find evidence that his
or her assumption is correct. “In other words, once formed, negative
interpretations do not change easily. Even though we can be wrong in our
assumptions, we tend to see what we expect to see” (Fighting for Your Marriage). Negative interpretations can be a
difficult beast to kill once it has set in.
An extremely dangerous and harmful outcome of a relationship infiltrated
with negative interpretations is that people will stop noticing any good things
that are happening in the relationship. The bad interpretations might
completely overshadow the positive realities that could be enjoyed.
Negative interpretations will negatively impact communication. When someone
believes that the other person has negative motivations toward him, there will
be more justification for unkind words to be spoken. Believing negative things
about your spouse has a significant impact on his or her response as well.
Researchers have discovered that the partner will more likely respond in anger
and frustration when the other has negative interpretations of him.
How can negative interpretation be prevented?
Fighting this type of thinking is not won by simply thinking positively.
These negative assumptions have deeply rooted themselves into your heart and
must be intentionally dug out. These weeds must be confronted by you and you
The first step is to open yourself to the possibility that you are
negatively interpreting your partner’s intentions. The next step is to practice
looking for evidence that will disprove your negative interpretations. If you
think somebody is unloving toward you, begin to look for and respond to acts of
love that he or she does show.
Negative interpretations are fed by the lie that we are able to, or have the
right to mind-read the other person’s motivations. First, we are not physically
capable of mind-reading our spouses. We might like to think that we can know
what is going on in their minds at certain times, and that might be true, but
we cannot discover with certainty what someone’s motivations are without asking
him or her. Second, and more importantly, we do not have the right to
judge someone’s motivations. In 1 Samuel 16, the Lord says that only He can see
someone’s heart. If you want to hear more about this, then check out this
sermon from Fellowship Bible Church in New Jersey: Taking Off
Your Judge’s Robe.
For the record, there will be times when your spouse has negative
motivations for how he or she treats you. It is in these times we must learn
how to not react, but to respond in love as Christ would.
This is against our human nature and can be difficult to do.
In conclusion, be alert for the destructive pattern of negative
interpretations in your relationship. Ask God how He would have you communicate
with your partner and how He would have you respond to him or her. Be watchful
for the roots of negative assumptions and for their ally, confirmation
To be continued…