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Luisa Tam
SCMP Columnist
The Naked Truth
by Luisa Tam
The Naked Truth
by Luisa Tam

Negativity is like slow-acting poison for a relationship. Counter it by focusing on the positives, what’s good about your partner, and treasure your time together

  • It may be that you take each other for granted, or are feeling bored. Whatever the cause of your negativity, you can still draw strength from your relationship
  • Create a secure environment where you can learn to express your needs in a positive, guilt-free way, and appreciate the little daily moments you spend together

Sometimes, people in a long-term partnership find it difficult to see anything other than the problems – or worse, they see problems that don’t exist. 

It’s often because they take the relationship and their partner for granted. It can also be the result of emotional dumping, feeling bored in the relationship, or in the hopes that the other person will end things because the love is gone. 

Whatever the underlying motives, there is no running away and both partners need to face the music.

You can still draw strength from a relationship even when things are less than hunky dory. Do this by shifting your perspective and focusing on the positives, not the negatives. These positives might even be elements in your relationship that you gloss over because they seem unremarkable.

Quratulain Zaidi is a clinical psychologist at MindnLife in Hong Kong. Photo: courtesy of Quratulain Zaidi

Dr Quratulain Zaidi, a Hong Kong-based clinical psychologist, says we all have a tendency to highlight the negative aspects of our experiences.

“In my experience, when people spend all of their time worrying about things that are wrong instead of focusing on what’s good, it can become difficult in a long-term relationship. This can lead to missing out on a meaningful opportunity to work on what could have been a great relationship.

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“It’s important to reflect on your partner’s good qualities and positive aspects of your connection. Pay attention to the good parts of your relationship that are stable and familiar.” 

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Research suggests that a relationship where you can be yourself and you feel comfortable with your other half is a good foundation from which to rebuild your partnership. “Feeling like a team is very important in a relationship. If your partner makes you a better person, that’s a strength in a relationship. If you share decision-making and both of you accept each other’s influence in the relationship and have an equal say, that’s also a strength.

“If your partner is fundamentally a good person, and they’re reliable, kind, trustworthy and intelligent, then your relationship tends to be more stable,” Zaidi adds. 

“Pay attention to the good parts of your relationship that are stable and familiar,” Zaidi suggests. Photo: Shutterstock

If the other person is negative, untrustworthy and unappreciative of you, Zaidi offers the following advice to turn their negativity into positive energy.

She says negativity often works like a slow-acting poison between partners. A major reason that negativity can be so powerful is that humans have a cognitive tendency known as “negative bias”.

“In psychology, negative bias means that we tend to remember, learn from and pay attention to negative information more readily than we do positive information. We tend to have a stronger reaction – behaviourally and biochemically – to negative interactions than positive interactions.” 

How to recognise and manage intense or irrational feelings

Zaidi warns that small, unloving interactions repeated over days, months and years damage the physical and emotional intimacy between two people.
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“This hinders a couple’s ability to trust each other and paves the way for the so-called ‘four horsemen’ to flood the relationship: criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling. Eventually, the toxic impact of negativity can be so great that the catastrophic failure of a relationship can occur.”

She points out: “You can’t address a problem if you’re not aware of the problem. So, the first step in reducing the amount of negativity within your relationship is to become more consciously aware of it, address it and then talk about it.”

If your partner is a worrying type, Zaidi advises the following to reaffirm them. Photo: Shutterstock

If your partner is a worrying type, Zaidi advises the following to reaffirm them. 

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Anxiety is unpredictable, confusing and intrusive. It’s tough, not just for the people who have it but also for the people who love them, and the second-hand experience of anxiety feels awful because you want your partner to feel better and help them through it.

“The best you can do is listen, validate and empathise. Once they feel understood, then you both can create a space for problem-solving together.”

Trust your partner and allow yourself to be vulnerable. Photo: Artyom Ivanov/TASS
All relationships take work, but it requires effort. “All relationships have conflict. All relationships have challenges to overcome. It’s the avoidance of the work and challenges that exist between partners that’s a major problem,” she says.
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“This might sound obvious, but it’s a problem a lot of people have when relationships are flagging. People simply hope that things will get back to normal on their own. They don’t, so only you can make the change happen.” 

One important point is to create a secure environment in the relationship where you can learn to express your needs in a positive and guilt-free way. Trust your partner and allow yourself to be vulnerable. This decreases the tendency to build “walls” between partners, Zaidi says. 

Dating and depression: how to help your partner beat the blues

One sure-win strategy is to do small things often for your partner, which build up the emotional bank account, and show appreciation for these acts.

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“Appreciate your time together and cherish the time you spend with your partner. Don’t just cherish the big moments, like holidays or birthdays, but all the little daily moments, too, like watching television together or making dinner at home. Be fully present, and create that quality time away from the constant disruption of the phone, emails and social media,” she says. 

Luisa Tam is a Post correspondent who also hosts video tutorials on Cantonese language that are now part of Cathay Pacific’s in-flight entertainment programme 

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