And all the horrible no good very bad EVERYTHING
November 3, 2019 11:48 AM   Subscribe

Someone I love very much and spend a lot of time with is EXTREMELY negative and pessimistic. I am a pretty positive person and having a running narrative about how bad things are is very difficult to deal with and manage. Have you dealt with someone like this before? What kind of stratagies might I try?

My partner is a very negative person and I find it very difficult to deal with. I have a feeling that a lot of you have co workers or family members you spend time or work with that are negative so I didn't want to make that the focus of my question. I love my partner a lot and I am sad he sees the world the way he does.

Here are some concrete examples that he will discuss a lot and at length, in no particular order. This is not an exhaustive list by any means.

- He doesn't like our neighbours so everytime he sees them he will mention how much he dislikes them and why he dislikes them and how much he hates our neighborhood and how concerned he is that he won't break even when we sell our house.

- Almost every trip to a restaurant is bad. The waiter is terrible for ignoring us, or bringing stuff too fast or too slow. The food is too expensive for what it is and this is by far the worst version of this restaurant that he has ever been to.

- People are far too obsessed with whatever holiday is going on. People should not have decorations out this early. Or as many decorations as they have. Or the type of decorations. Decorations left out too long is a bad thing. This is a sign of a world that has gone mad.

- People aren't nice enough.

-If he does meet someone very nice, or wise or kind, then he will discuss at length how there aren't enough people like that in the world and that is why the world sucks.

-Guests in our house shouldn't have done xyz.

- Men should walk around in public without their t shirts on. It's disgusting.

-People ask too many questions.

- People shouldn't do xyz (be loud, park inconsideratly, drive big cars, make assumptions)

- There is definitly a banking crisis on the way and the housing market is going to crash.

Aside from the banking crisis fear which has breaks, most of these things are discussed almost every day or in every situation... he will make vocalize his disgust EVERY time he sees a man with his shirt off, a person parked poorly.

Just SO many things. I don't want to go into how this effects me because I don't want it to be a big relationship question, but it does effect me and I want to be able to handle it better in a very concrete way.

Certain types of these comments are especially hurtful and grating- if its bemoaning the fact that our kids don't eat enough vegtables, or aren't getting out of the house fast enough. I am bummed out that I can't enjoy eating at a restaurant with him at this current time. In that sense I definitely don't feel respected but I do believe that, while I can't get him to change exactly, that I am in the position to demand respect.

For example:

Would it be a good idea to have a few answers up my sleeves? I used to answer things with "I suppose"... I liked that a lot because it sounds like I am agreeing and listening but I am not comitting to actually sharing the view that xyz is BAD.

I would like more stuff like that and also ANY other tips or experiences that anyone can share.

Our children both have sensory issues and I suspect he does to (so does he) and that is partially why he is not happy with his life right now- he is doing a lot of travelling and the actual work and practicalities are pushing him to the limit. HOWEVER- this is still an issue even during times when he isn't travelling. The travelling situation will last another 6 months and then it will resolve itself.

Please be gentle with me here. Neither of us are bad people and we would both like to have a smooth running family. I would like to have a more effective way of responding.
posted by catspajammies to Human Relations (27 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: That was meant to say: men SHOULDN'T walk around without their shirts on. Of all the typos I could have made that one made me laugh.
posted by catspajammies at 11:50 AM on November 3, 2019 [8 favorites]

In the short term, I think the best response to excessively negative comments is just to say nothing. Just don't respond to them.

Longer term, I think you should talk to him and let him know that this bothers you, that it interferes with your enjoyment of various activities, and that you'd like him to stop. Not that he has to stop believing these criticisms, but that you'd like him to avoid saying them out loud unless it's truly important.

Longer longer term, I think you should encourage him to seek therapy. He is experiencing a combination of a heightened disgust/fear response to a lot of everyday stuff, plus a lack of filter when it comes to expressing his reactions. Therapy can help him work on both of those, and maybe get more joy out of life.
posted by mai at 11:52 AM on November 3, 2019 [23 favorites]

So, very short term here, but humor can help. Agree with his position, and very gently take it to an absurd extreme. Ideally, he'll laugh and say he wouldn't go quite that far.

"I don't like the neighbors."
"Me neither, they're such neighbors. I hate how they live next door in their house and live their lives right there next to us. Like, if we have to see you all the time anyway, then move all the way into our house and pay us some rent. Or give us some space, move to the next city over, and let us live next to a vacant building, please."
posted by Former Congressional Representative Lenny Lemming at 12:04 PM on November 3, 2019 [14 favorites]

I don't want to go into how this effects me because

right but the fact that it does do something to you is the reason you're entitled to ask him to to do this less, it's the necessary justification.

because if you tell him he's been constantly negative lately and you worry that he's depressed, he might say: Good observation, I absolutely am! We're right in sync, you and me! but if you tell him his constant negativity makes you deeply unhappy, maybe he will say, Oh no, I know what that's like and I don't want that for you, let me make an effort to suppress it.

If you feel that this is manipulative or otherwise not likely to work, you could simply say what you wrote: I love you a lot and it makes me sad that you see the world this way. I mean say it more than once, as the opportunity presents itself. vary your phrasing and all, but experiment with taking him seriously and letting him see it. this is likely to be exhausting so I suggest it only as a short-term trial.

I think you're saying he talks like this even when he's happy, which could mean it's just an ingrained habit or it could mean he consciously thinks of it pleasantly grumpy but standard talk (some people do, which why the effect on you has to be part of the conversation). either way, he considers it normal. I think the best answer to these remarks will have to be one which, without overt dramatics, conveys that you do not consider them normal.
posted by queenofbithynia at 12:22 PM on November 3, 2019 [15 favorites]

It’s OK for you to set boundaries around your partner’s negativity and allow them to find other outlets for being negative or not. But being somebody’s partner doesn’t mean you’re obligated to accept everything they do at all times when it is driving you crazy. And being around someone who is negative at all times will drive pretty much anyone crazy.

My then husband used to finish my sentences or try to because I sometimes take a long time to formulate my thoughts. I understood that he was frustrated but that did not make it OK. We talked about it a few times and he acknowledged that it wasn’t OK but he kept doing it. So one day I said nicely that every time he did that, I would charge him a dollar. And every time he did that, I would stop him and say, you owe me a dollar. He fished a dollar out of his pocket maybe three times before he stopped doing this. Because a lot of changing behavior simply involves awareness that you’re doing it and that it’s a bad idea.

I don’t know if you are female or not but I will say that lots of women are accustomed to this idea that we’re just supposed to suck it up, all of it, and turn ourselves inside out if necessary to take whatever the hell we’re getting from our partners whatever gender our partners may be. I don’t think you need to dump your partner. But I used to have a friend like that. It was nearly unbearable. When I drastically cut down the time I spent with her, my life got better.

So I would probably say, dear partner, this is really wearing me down. You get to say negative things X times (5?) to me a day and that’s it. So decide what it’s going to be because every moment you are negative in my direction after the fifth time I am going to remind you that this is not healthy for me to listen to and I’m not willing to continue listening to it.

Seriously, it’s not your job to listen to every single thing that comes out of your partner’s mouth at all times when it is wearing you down. You can leave the room if they do not cut it out and they can be solely in charge of the kids for a bit, for example. And why are you alone in charge of how many vegetables your kids eat anyway?

Captain Awkward has mentioned that people with mental illnesses/neurodiversity/whatever don’t get a license to be assholes. I understand that you love your partner and I understand that you have reasons for loving your partner. They probably don’t understand the high cost of their negativity on you. So please make that clear to him or her. And if your partner continues to be negative, that indicates an asshole problem. Please stand up for yourself because it’s better for your relationship and your kids to stop accepting behavior that would be too much for anyone to accept.

My apologies if I sound harsh. I don’t mean to sound harsh. It is an expression of my distress in response to your attempt to figure out a way of tolerating the intolerable, which is not fair to you and not fair to your kids and not fair to your partner, who needs to learn how to be a better partner. I used to be super negative. I changed. It is not impossible.
posted by Bella Donna at 12:26 PM on November 3, 2019 [41 favorites]

This recent thread may be of interest.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 12:32 PM on November 3, 2019 [2 favorites]

Have you ever tried asking him how much this stuff really bothers him? Like is he really angry every time he brings stuff like that up, or does he just enjoy making these observations and telling you about them? It might be helpful to approach it from that angle of understanding.

It's not clear from your question if you've tried discussing with him how much this constant negativity gets you down. And that can be tough. Speaking as someone who could probably be described as hypercritical in a lot of situations and who thinks the world has largely gone mad, I don't appreciate being told to simply stop complaining, especially when I feel like I'm saying something important. But I do like to know when a loved one is unhappy with a topic of conversation, if it's getting that person down or ruining their enjoyment of something that they like. I don't want to have that effect on people.
posted by wondermouse at 12:35 PM on November 3, 2019 [2 favorites]

I don't want to go into how this effects me

My natural tendency is to act like your partner, although perhaps not to the same degree. The only thing that got me to actually work on not being an unending spout of negativity was my partner talking about how it effects her.

I would recommend talk therapy for your partner. I think them having a regularly scheduled appointment with someone who is paid and prepared to absorb this sort of thing could be tremendously helpful, even if it's just moving part of the toxic dumping ground outside of your home and relationship.
posted by jordemort at 12:41 PM on November 3, 2019 [3 favorites]

If these were genuine concerns, I’d engage but it seems like these are mostly minor annoyances or observations that everyone in life has (that man doesn’t look good with a shirt off, he should put it back on!) he just feels the need to voice it.

Initially I would start simply by telling him how you feel, that it’s wearing you down, it’s exhausting and you’d appreciate it if he’d keep these thoughts to himself. If he still keeps it up - and chances are he could because it’s entrenched now - I’d try making him more aware of it by turning it into a game.

Say he complains that the sun’s out and it’s too bright. Tell him for every negative thing he says, he has to offset it with three positive ones. Quick, before the negativity drag us all down! Make him smile, but insist that he does it. Every time. It will either turn into a game and make him see the good things in life or he’ll get annoyed enough about having to do this constantly that it’ll make him think before whining. Kind of like an instant gratitude journal. Best of luck, you sound like a saint for making it this far.
posted by Jubey at 12:48 PM on November 3, 2019 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you everyone for all your help.

Yes, I have tried to talk to him about this... and I have gotten mad about it... and cried a couple of times.

I think even though I have discussed it with him, he improves for a bit, or says why he isn't feeling positive... at the moment it is the travelling situation. In some ways he has improved- but its still a problem. It slips back very quickly and things get off track very quickly.

But I must be sending out the message that it is okay to be this negative and I think if I could put some thought into how I conduct myself in response that it would... I don't know... help.

It has been very hard for me the last few years because I don't think that he was as prepared for family life as he thought he was, however much he wanted it, and its taken a big toll on my own health. Now that they are a little bit older I am working to put myself back together. A lot HAS improved, and he has stopped behaviours that were pushing me to the limit and I have taken control of the more critical problems... but this is probably a more ingrained habit and I am definitely still wearing a doormat tshirt.

posted by catspajammies at 12:55 PM on November 3, 2019

Would it be a good idea to have a few answers up my sleeves? I used to answer things with "I suppose"... I liked that a lot because it sounds like I am agreeing and listening but I am not comitting to actually sharing the view that xyz is BAD.

I would not keep doing this. Just straight up disengage at this point. You have given him the incorrect idea that you are willing to listen and tolerate his relentless negativity by listening and responding, however noncommittally.

I must be sending out the message that it is okay to be this negative and I think if I could put some thought into how I conduct myself in response that it would... I don't know... help.

It’s not your job to change your husband or put up with his behaviour that distresses you, but you are probably correct that continuing to listen to him is giving him the message that you’ll put up with it. I think the only thing you can do is reiterate the toll his negativity is having on your mental health, and tell him that in order to protect your mental health you will literally walk away every time he starts making these negative comments—then do it. If he has any self awareness he will figure out that he really can't keep inflicting his negativity on you without damaging your relationship.

I’m not suggesting this would be easy for you to do, but you could give it a try for a while and see how it goes. I think if he is not actually a bad person and cares about you and your relationship, it may prompt him to more self-reflection.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 1:33 PM on November 3, 2019 [9 favorites]

I think I tend to act this way when I feel very safe with someone. On a first date, or a special vacation, or a job interview, it is obvious to most people to be smooth and positive. This sort of negativity is the kind of thing that occurs mostly with one’s mother, or close friends, or life partner, or others who one is very used to.

My thoughts are for you to maybe try and break out of this “forever dependable everyday confidante” mode of being and become more, I don’t know, first-datey. More of a glamorous stranger he wants to impress. Easier said than done if you’re long term partners with kids, I know. But I think removing yourself from the daily grind with him, perhaps getting a new hobby, new look, planning a date night or weekend, something like that, might work. I think this is a bigger problem than just an in-the-moment speech tic.
posted by stockpuppet at 1:38 PM on November 3, 2019 [2 favorites]

But I must be sending out the message that it is okay to be this negative and I think if I could put some thought into how I conduct myself in response that it would... I don't know... help.

You are not sending out that message in the sense that you are in any way responsible for his choice of how to be in the world. Explicitly spoken words are messages, and you sent several. You aren't responsible for his apparent belief that you only mind what you said you minded for as long as you're actively sobbing in front of him. If in spite of all your clear statements he still thinks it is okay to talk this way at you, that is because it is okay. for him. You didn't make him believe that his freedom of expression is a more vital domestic need than your freedom from distress. You didn't create that attitude with messaging and you can't reverse it with messaging alone, either.

couples counseling doesn't seem like the answer because the last thing you need is more homework to do or an authority telling you that this is a co-created problem. Personal therapy for him, on the other hand, might work wonders unless it's already been tried and failed.
posted by queenofbithynia at 1:43 PM on November 3, 2019 [13 favorites]

Sometimes people don't realize they are complaining -- it's a bad habit. They are completely unaware that life can be another way.

Complaining has no real purpose. It's only there to strengthen the ego. You husband is operating from his ego and not from his true self. He's trapped in his ego. He might be in a lot of emotional pain. Pain feeds on drama and negative thoughts. It needs the drama and thoughts to stay in pain. He may have suffered trauma or he may have been raised by a person in a lot of pain who was complaining as well. There is an addiction to complaining --the ego doesn't want to let it go. The ego likes to stay angry because it allows the person who feels powerless to feel powerful and justified. This is an ego trip.

Your husband believes the negative thoughts in his head -- that the market is going to crash or the neighbors are lousy and are going to make him lose money. He's personalizing the neighbors by making them enemies so he can have real or imagined conflict, or blame them if something goes wrong with the value of your house. The ego loves to blame. He's complaining about the waiter because he's attempting to find the waiter wrong. This is all ego-based negative thinking and his attempts to be "right".

Whenever someone complains about others it usually an attempt to feel superior or more virtuous. It's a comparison tactic. I'm better than them because I would never do that -- I am more intelligent, considerate, aware, sophisticated, kinder, etc.

Your husband is unconscious and not living in the present or the present moment. He's constantly thinking about past and future and is complaining and anxious because he is identified with his thoughts. He thinks his thoughts are actually real. He doesn't realize that he can allow things to unfold as they will. He doesn't realize that it's all perception. There are only problems when you create problems in your mind.

If he complains without attempting to find solutions or solve something, then he is only trying to strengthen his ego. If he is concerned about the timing of the food -- why doesn't he kindly ask the waiter to wait to bring out the entree or whatever? If he thinks restaurants are expensive, why is he dining out? Why isn't he speaking up or finding practical, adult solutions instead of complaining? Because he needs to complain to prove that they are wrong and he is right.

For your husband there needs to be some awareness on his part that he likes to complain. If there is awareness he can notice while it's happening and he can realize he enjoys his negative state in some way. At this point he might realize that his mind activity is futile and serves no useful purpose. Next he can ask -- What is the purpose of my thoughts? Do they change the world? Do they change anything or do they only drag me into complaining/negativity more deeply? Do I want to continue to think these thoughts? What happens when I don't think this way?

When awareness comes in, choice comes in. They are able to step out of their minds and the stream of negativity subsides with practice and awareness. It takes a lot of awareness and practice because there will be a pull to go back to complaining and negative thoughts. Keep practicing to go back into awareness and it will get better with time. When you see the negative stream of thoughts you're no longer addicted. When you see the negative thoughts you're aware.

When there is no awareness you are the ego. You are the negative thoughts.

For some people complaining is always in the background of their minds and they are completely unaware. Your husband might be completely unaware. Hard to tell.

The only way to "help" unconscious people is to be conscious and present and not mind-identified. The challenge is not to react or go into unconsciouness with him. When you are at the restaurant, or the car, or wherever, and he's complaining go deeply into presence. It's not always easy not to react. You can use his unconsciousness to be more present instead of slipping into your own thoughts and negative mind-patterns . Breathe. Notice. Enjoy your food. Don't react or say "I suppose". You might say, "there are no problems". Or say your chicken is delicious-- if it is. Or say nothing and breathe and notice the flavors of your meal and the hum of the air conditioner and the din of the restaurant and all of the sounds and sensations around you. If he's complaining about the neighbors or the decorations say nothing. Go deeply into the present moment. Your presence may bring awareness to him and awareness is the key to get unstuck. Look out the window and notice the leaves and the sky. When he's unconsciousness and complaining, your consciousness might bring him into awareness -- he might find it disorienting and wonder what you're doing.

Do things for you, take care of yourself, be aware, and be conscious with your kids. My father was deeply ego-based and complained about people he knew and didn't know, relative, neighbors, governments, etc. I was ego-based for a long time too and "woke up" in my thirties.

Also you might try the phrases "I don't know why you care." "How does it affect you?" etc. My friends and husband have said these things to me when I was deep into complaining and these sorts of phrases helped to bring me out for a while.
posted by loveandhappiness at 3:11 PM on November 3, 2019 [24 favorites]

My personal style would be to respond to the more trivial complaints with saying "Yup" in a nice tone of voice, then counting to five and saying "Mmm, it doesn't really bother me." I don't know if this would actually help (it might annoy him), but it maybe it might help him illustrate that we don't have to be bothered by everything. (IDK if it is truly compulsive for him.)

But then when I read that he is having a lot of stress from travelling, I had a smidge of sympathy for him, so planning on bringing him glasses of water or squeezing his hand or telling him "I think it's going to be okay" might be a nice moral high road.

Are his complaints constant or does he complain lots more when bored or hungry? Right before dinner is a low point for a lot of people. Plan ahead if you can. Avoid him, or bring headphones.
posted by puddledork at 4:30 PM on November 3, 2019 [2 favorites]

I think you need some go to sentences that you use every time the commentary starts. Basically, tell him to stop, redirect himself, and offer a new way to do things to him.

“Babe, you are complaining about unchangeable things. Can you choose a new topic of conversation?”

“Hon, I’ve heard how you feel and unless there’s a different choice we can make right now, you need to choose a new subject of conversation.”

“Love, I need you to find some way to get this negative commentary into a diary or journal or therapy session, because it is too much for me to deal with”

“This topic has been canvassed extensively for some time, please can you change the conversation?”

“When you complain about X, I feel helpless to change anything about it and it makes me depressed and upset. Could you consider that putting negative commentary into every part of our lives is hurting the people’s around you?”

“Hon, this kind of tirade hurts me. I’d like it to stop now. Can you do that for me?”

“Love, the world around us is annoying, I get it. But other people get to be people living in it too, y’know. I find your negative stream of commentary to be an annoying and upsetting aspect of my life. I want it to stop.”

“Please consider meditating on all the good things you have in your life right now, and if you have some pleasant things to observe could you share those with me?”

“On the other hand, and I need to you really reflect on this, you have a partner who loves you and a loving family in a safe part of the world, with a roof over our head, jobs that pay our bills, running water and electricity. Let’s give some thanks to things we have that so many others don’t”
posted by honey-barbara at 4:54 PM on November 3, 2019 [11 favorites]

Oh, you're describing my BIL. I think my sister does a good job of managing it.

What she does is recognise when it is caused by him being very stressed himself, and then she ignores it or mmm-hmm. However, when he's just doing it out of habit, she very kindly redirects. "Husband, I think we're all familiar with your views on the terrible state of US newspapers. Why don't you find a nice thing to talk about?" It generally works. The challenge is, as with you, he seems to have sensory issues which cause him to do this as a kind of self stimming when he's really freaked out. She tries not to interfere too much when he's in that state, but they do talk about it later to make him conscious of the impact he has on others.
posted by frumiousb at 5:44 PM on November 3, 2019 [4 favorites]

I was in a long term relationship and later marriage, with someone like this.

He was fixated with overweight people, constantly making fun of them, for instance, if we were out shopping and he saw someone who was overweight, he'd make snide comments and expect me to agree and join in with him.

He also criticized people's clothing choices, their homes, their taste in well, just about everything.

Food was huge, because he was vegetarian, bordering on vegan at times, claiming allergies (it was food aversion, no true allergies, or even intolerances), and dining out was extremely difficult, because he was constantly criticizing the food, the wait staff, the aesthetics of the restaurant, and the other diners (slobs, suburban housewives, etc.).

The relationship did not last, because eventually he turned his criticisms onto me.

What I finally worked out is that it was a combination of the way he was raised, with a very critical mother, whose habit was to criticize the way other people led their lives, while herself leading the "perfect" life, and no one could ever live up to her expectations, including her children, and his expectations of the perfect life. My ex lived at home well into adulthood, and was sheltered from things like paying rent, cleaning up after  himself, and dealing with children.

When he got out into the real world, there was a huge clash between his expectations of normal life, and his fantasy of what he'd imagined his life should be. He was extremely talented in many areas, which led to a lot of praise from others, and was very attention seeking. However, when his latest artistic venture didn't immediately gain him the accolades that he felt he so richly deserved, this would send him into a spiral of depression, then he'd start something else, and the cycle would continue.
Nothing was ever good enough for him. Nothing. His parents let us live in a nice investment house they'd bought, cheap rent, decent neighborhood, but he still complained about his life.

Complaining about others was a way of making him feel better about himself. "Well, at least I'm not that person. How can they live like that?"

Worrying about the future is common with people with depression and anxiety. A lot of it is about control. You can't control the future, and the mind becomes fixated on problems, and goes in a loop, over and over.

The disgust with shirtless men can be telling. Do you think he perceives himself as higher class, and only low class men go around not wearing shirts? Does he have negative connotations from a childhood experience (poor relatives who went around not wearing shirts?), or a poor body image? Who knows? But it does seem like a strange thing to focus on, because lots of men go without shirts when it's hot out, especially in casual situations (like the beach, etc.).

Life is hard enough without having to listen to this negative comments day in and day out. I myself can get into a complaining/negative/grumpy cycle, and I catch myself and realize that I am either worried about money, overly tired, hungry, etc. And resolve to be better, and not let minor things irritate me. I will write down my rants into a blank email, then close it up and go on with my day.

I would tell him, "I can't listen to this right now. You complain about the same things over and over again, and it's affecting me very badly. Please go write it down in a journal, and come back into the room when you've gotten it out of your system. I don't want the kids growing up in this environment. If you can't get your head on straight, go see a counselor. I want you to be happy, and I deserve to be happy too."

If possible, you can leave the room, or get in the car with the kids and go for a drive, to the mall or a park (depending on the weather). Just say, "I am not listening to this again. People are human beings, and no one is perfect, and the world is never going to live up to your expectations. If you want to complain, do it to the empty room, I refuse to listen to these rants anymore." Then leave and come back in a while.

If you can't leave, say, "I don't want to hear it anymore. Please stop."

Then the ball is in his court, and you don't have to be loud or repeat yourself. If he continues, hold your hand up. I've found people react to the hand very well. Everyone knows what the hand stop sign means.

If he won't respect those boundaries, there's not much else you can do, I'm afraid. If he isn't willing to tone it down, or do some serious introspection as to why he feels compelled to complain constantly, either with journalling or counseling, then your choice is to live with it, or not live with it (i.e., leave). You really can't control other people's behavior, and this is well out of the realm of leaving one's dirty underwear on the floor or forgetting to take the trash out. It's serious, and you are not responsible for his behavior or making it right, that's on him.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 5:36 AM on November 4, 2019 [7 favorites]

'loveandhappiness' hit the nail

some canned responses to help him become more self aware could be:

You seem to be frustrated/ angry... (each time)
(for more extreme/absurd complaints): "Did you just say....?!"
What is really bothering you here?
Why are you framing this situation in this way?
Are you throwing a hissy fit?
You can be frustrated with me.. but you can't be unkind/ insulting/ disrespectful
Do you really want to be frustrated over THIS?
What can be done to avoid this situation?

"I know you get upset when you don't have control, but you are going to have to redirect your complaints... or deal with it/get help... rather than direct them at me... it's off-putting/repulsive/ unattractive"
posted by mrmarley at 9:13 AM on November 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

It sounds like you've told him why it's a problem for you. Would it be helpful to choose a phrase in advance, with him, that you will use when you want him to lay off? Something innocuous like "I'm sorry you feel that way" which will sound normal in public but remind him that this is negatively affecting you.
posted by metasarah at 10:04 AM on November 4, 2019

I was married to someone like this for 11 years and I know just how difficult it is, especially if you are a reasonably positive person yourself. It is incredibly draining to be yoked to that dynamic every single day without a break. Yes, sure, I have other negativity-prone people in my life BUT with them I can limit my exposure and protect my mental health and wellbeing in a way you simply cannot when that person is your partner. In his case, it was based in some very deep-rooted insecurity and nonexistent stress management techniques. It seems to be improving now that he is in regular therapy but I would not know for sure because it was a very big part of the reason I eventually left the marriage.

The above suggestions are good, but results are going to very much depend on how well your husband is able to receive and respond to feedback. Almost nothing I said would have made a difference or truly gotten his attention to the degree needed to effect change, and I suspect the same is true of yours, given that you've cried (!) in front of him about it and still it persists. My ex-husband was never able to accept it without getting extremely defensive no matter how carefully or kindly I couched my words, and always told me that I made him feel as though he wasn't entitled to his feelings or wasn't "allowed" to be angry or upset, when in retrospect what I was objecting to was its form and presentation (the relentless negativity and complaining).

Another thing to consider: is he like this with everyone or just you? Is he capable of being pleasant (or at least neutral) and monitoring or the frequency and volume of his complaints with others? I remember being so shocked and unsettled when I realized that he could be dumping tons of negativity at my feet yet turn away midway through the conversation with a smile and a laugh for someone who interrupted us (a delivery person, a phone call from an employee, whatever), only to pick up right where he left off with me. So he WAS capable of reading other people and tailoring his behavior, but didn't care enough to do it for me.

I will say that I tried just about everything over the years. Ignoring it only made him double down with further commentary because I wasn't giving him the attention he wanted. Even responding in a minor way like "mmhmm" or trying to redirect just slowly ground away at my spirit day after day. A year and a half or so ago, he was traveling for work so it was just me and our small children; we were enjoying the loveliest Sunday EVER at the park, and out of nowhere an uncomfortable voice whispered in the back of my mind that we were having such a peaceful and relaxing day because he wasn't there...and that was my turning point. I wanted a smooth family life also, but I couldn't have it with him.

Hang in there. And please do not take too much of the responsibility for this on yourself and think your responses are the cause OR the solution. This is hugely disrespectful behavior, as you note, as well as a terribly un-fun way for HIM to live. I strongly second the recommendation for talk therapy as a means of moving his "processing" out of the home and your relationship in the interim.
posted by anderjen at 11:27 AM on November 4, 2019 [8 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you everyone so far for your answers, I have been re reading them all day and welcome anymore wisdom of course.

I didn't want any big DTMFA answers because that wouldn't have helped me right this second... and thank you so much for gently sharing your experiences with similar partners and for highlighting some of the ways that my thinking isn't serving me well and how I can think differently about the dynamic in a way where I have more power over what I accept in my life.

You are all amazing and thank you.
posted by catspajammies at 11:42 AM on November 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

What struck me about your question is how much anxiety is playing a role here.
"Should" is a poisonous word associated with anxiety. Also it pretends that the judgemental person has power. It's ego-based and entitled.

With lots of therapy, I've learned to replace "should" with "could". How liberating!

Sometimes I catch myself saying the "s-word," and I have to laugh about "should-ing all over the place" or say "I didn't mean to 'should' on you."

If you told your spouse, "hey, don't 'should' on me!" -- would he get it? Maybe not, and maybe this is too negative a response in return, but it may be worth a try.

Language is powerful. A small change in the words we use can make a difference in our frame of mind.
posted by acridrabbit at 9:34 PM on November 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

All of this stuff is true and his responsibility is to be a good person and not hurt his family, and in parallel to this he could get a medical workup to see what his sensory issues are and to get diagnoses so he can get accomodations at work. Is he autistic? Is he being bullied at work for this? Does he have unresolved trauma he could work on with a therapist? Does he need medication? A lot of this could come from the frustration of autistic burnout. None of this is to justify his behaviour, but to see what supports he needs to lower his load. All the support and interventions your kids get for sensory issues? He deserves support and interventions for his. None of this justifies his behaviour one bit - it's designed to make it easier for him to have the energy to change his behaviour. Suggestions like headphones and various conditioning mentioned above might change the behaviour but the behaviour's impetus will still exist and go ... somewhere.
posted by Mistress at 2:53 AM on November 5, 2019

This was such an important moment in my friend’s life that I want to repost it here:

Obviously different things speak to different people, but the long term partner of a very negative friend of mine once said to him : "Look, you can be part of the Yes or you can be part of the No.”

It didn’t suddenly turn him into a happy smiling person, but it has stuck with him through years of emotional growth.

posted by Tell Me No Lies at 6:07 AM on November 5, 2019

I relate so hard to your question. My SO used to be this way. I finally told him that every time he complained yet again about the same damn thing that literally every person on earth deals with on the daily, a thing that is never going to change, he was sucking a little more joy out of my life. Little by little, he was taking my glass-half-full and sucking it dry. I gave him concrete examples too, such as how I could no longer enjoy simple pleasures like going out for a dinner date with him, because even before we left the house I would be bracing myself for his inevitable tirades about bad traffic and lack of parking and waiting for tables. Again, more joy lost from my life. Our lives. Our exceedingly short time here on earth. Spent listening to him fucking whining about a slow elevator. I asked him point blank, is his complaining going to make the elevator come any faster? Make the long line at the grocery store disappear? For what purpose, then? Exactly what or who did he think was benefiting from his incessant ranting? Certainly not me and my rising blood pressure. So, the answer was nothing. His complaining was helping nothing and nobody. Literally a waste of breath.

It really struck a chord with him, because I think in his case, the root of his need to complain was a feeling of powerlessness, the lack of control over his circumstances and the situations around him. Complaining was a way at grasping for control, of asserting some kind of power where he had none. He's still not perfect. I can hear him let out long sighs or see him roll his eyes sometimes when he's peeved about something. But I would put his frequency of complaints within the "normal" range now. And if he does start to spiral, I might briefly acknowledge and then immediately change the subject. I don't let him dwell or start a rant. If he keeps starting up, I'll ask him, "Are you going to be a grump today?" and that snaps him out of it. I know it's tough... I really hope you find something that works for you both.
posted by keep it under cover at 10:36 PM on November 5, 2019 [4 favorites]

Little by little, he was taking my glass-half-full and sucking it dry.

This reminded me about how my kindergartener's class has been learning about the bucket concept – the power of repeat negative interactions to slowly drain not only your own bucket but those of all the people around you (and of course the power to do the opposite and fill everyone up). I really like the visual aspect of it because it's SO TRUE, that's exactly what it feels like.
posted by anderjen at 6:59 AM on November 6, 2019 [3 favorites]

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