What do you do when the most negative person in your life is your partner? That’s the question I was recently asked by one of our readers. As I thought it was a very good question, I thought I would provide an answer to it here in open forum.
Firstly, perhaps we should look at the matter of optimism versus pessimism. As I have said before, I often ask the question ‘are you an optimist or a pessimist?’ in my workshops. The interesting thing is that the pessimists usually prefer the label ‘realist’ whereas the optimists are quite happy with the other word.
The reason that people become pessimists has to be understood in order to help us to come to terms with them. Essentially, it is because the attitude of pessimism serves them in some way. Speak with pessimists and they will tell you that if you expect the worse, you are disappointed less often. They will tell you that “it’s all very well for you, with your rose coloured glasses on, but someone around here needs to tell you the way things actually are.”
So, that’s what pessimists believe they are bringing to the party, so to speak.
Personally, I don’t buy the idea that you are disappointed less often if you are a pessimist. It has been shown many times (see the Pygmalion Study) that an optimistic attitude increases the chances of things going well for you. That is not a matter of opinion; it is fact. So, optimists actually get less disappointment in their lives. But explaining this stuff to pessimists is a hard sell indeed.
So, what do you do when the most negative person in your life is your partner?
Firstly, it is important to recognise that you can’t change them, so don’t even try. If you can stay positive yourself, despite the climate of doom and gloom that may surround your partner, it is possible you may influence them over the course of time. But the answer to the problem is not to be found in getting them to change. You can’t do it and you don’t need to attempt to do so.
What you need to do is to first understand the difference between stimulus and response and then understand that you have the ability to choose your response in any, and every, situation. In other words, you can’t control what life throws at you, but you can choose how to respond and it is by your responses that you hold the power to change your future. This is what Stephen Covey called being proactive.
In one of Covey’s talks, I remember him mentioning Victor Frankyl, a Jewish doctor who was imprisoned in the death camps of Nazi Germany during World War II. They experimented on his body, causing him great pain and anguish until he discovered what he called, ‘the last, ultimate freedom’ i.e. that they could hurt his body, but they could not hurt him – the person who lived in his body.
By a series of exercises, mainly using the power of imagination, he was able to expand his proactive nature until he became free, despite remaining a captive until the end of the war. He used the time to study fellow prisoners and came up with his theory of Logotherapy in which he proposed that people survived dreadful experiences when they had a reason to do so. By the way, his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, is well worth reading.
Of course, this is an extreme example. But, it does illustrate that whatever people do to us, we have the power to choose how we will respond. The same is true with your partner. He or she can choose to be the most miserable person on the planet if they wish – but you have the power to react in whatever way you choose.
Learning to consider your options and always choose the ones that are congruent with your goals is the key habit to develop and it is the essence of habit #1 in the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Become a proactive person (in this sense) and you will never again have to worry about the attitudes, opinions and – yes – even the actions of others.