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Patterns of Destruction, Part 3

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

shoes off. 

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

annoy you. 

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

hurting me?

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…

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