“Some people just naturally see the negatives…”
ME?! I think my voice went up several levels in pitch, like Adam Levine style, when I heard the therapist say that. There was no way he was talking about me. But sure enough, when I lifted my eyes from my now-bleeding cuticles I was digging at, his gaze in my direction confirmed that he wasn’t talking to my husband. Up until this point, these couple’s therapy sessions were all the same. Marriage isn’t easy. Infertility doesn’t make it any easier. But those are both topics for another day.
This therapist was the first one to really look at and address who we were individually instead of as a couple. It makes sense, you know? A marriage isn’t a separate entity, it’s what’s created when two people combine. And what we were creating was a mess. Eventually, he helped us to see that we would never stop coming together as a giant mess if we didn’t start to work on who we were individually. And apparently, who I am is someone that’s naturally prone to negativity.
Could that really be true? Of course, in that room, I wouldn’t even entertain the idea that I could be playing any role in this. I disagreed. Then, he asked a set of questions that would stick with me long after that appointment.
“Do you think your husband is perfect?”
“So you recognize that with all good things, there will always be bad things as well?”
“Maybe. I don’t know.”
“So if he was doing all of the things we’ve talked about, he would still have flaws and make mistakes, right?”
“Is it possible that he does love you and he is trying, but you’re choosing to see his flaws instead?”
After that, I did what any married, semi-adult would do; pouted and didn’t speak until it was time to leave, then talked about how much I hated him and how I was never going back the entire drive home. We did go back, but unfortunately for him, my husband, and myself, that conversation didn’t break through the barrier to self-growth for quite awhile. But I never stopped thinking about it. It replayed over and over again. What could he possibly be talking about? I motivate people all the time. I inspire them. I post happy messages. I smile at people in the grocery store. I’m not negative…. unless something goes wrong.
You know that moment when you finally see something that’s been in front of you for a long time – like when you’re trying to solve a math problem, but it never makes sense, until one day it does? Or when you’re doing a crossword puzzle, and that word finally jumps out at you? You reach for the highlighter while wondering how you hadn’t been able to see it all along. That’s what happened one day while going through the reasons I didn’t believe I focused on the negatives. The lightbulb moment was when those last few words came out of my mouth: unless something went wrong.
I realized that something goes wrong more than I thought. So I started watching things unfold; I allowed myself to continue having my natural reactions to things, but forced myself to reflect on them afterward. What I found was that:
Something went wrong while driving down the road.
Something went wrong at the grocery store.
Something went wrong while making dinner.
Something went wrong during dinner.
Something went wrong on vacation, on date night, at church, in life.
Something was always wrong.
Like so many times before, that conversation from therapy replayed in my mind, only this time, I heard it differently.
“So you recognize that with all good things, there will be bad things as well?”
That means that the opposite must be true, right? With all bad things, there will also be good things. That’s when I finally understood what that therapist meant by seeing the negative. Each and every situation has at least potential positive and negative effects; some are harder to see than others. But to prove this point to myself, I took examples that were blatantly skewed in one direction and imagined seeing the opposite.
Hitting the Powerball and being angry about the money lost to taxes.
Staying at one of those over-the-water bungalows in Bora Bora and complaining about the distance of the flight.
Sounds crazy, right? But is it? Those examples are extreme to us, or at least they should be, but what about the every day things that someone else, somewhere would consider to be just as extreme?
The line at the grocery store was SO long.
The traffic here is terrible all the time.
What some women would give to stand in line at the grocery store for hours if that meant they could afford food to feed their families! What a blessing it would be to some to sit in a car with air conditioning on the way home from work instead of walking several miles!
Where there is negative, there is positive. Maybe it’s not easily or immediately visible, but it will be there if you focus your mindset on finding it. So that’s what I decided to attempt. It’s not easy, and more often than not, I’ll go a good part of the day focusing on the negative before I realize, and make yet another mental shift. Each day is new, some with greater challenges than the last, but still completely full of opportunities to see the good. Some things I’ve started focusing on are the mundane things that become negatives. I’ve found that it’s incredibly easy to develop bitterness and complacency in the small things that are negativity ninjas.
I have to clean the front window every day because of the nose marks all over it.
My husband leaves the syrup from his oatmeal on the counter every single morning.
The laundry basket is never not full.
Our new house is so far away from everything we want to do.
Yep, those are some of the things that become my dark clouds. So what can I see as a positive? What can I thank God for in this bunch of complaints? What am I failing to appreciate because I’m focused on the negative?
I have to clean the front window every day because of the nose marks all over it. Those nose marks come from our pets that bring me so much joy. I know there will one day come a time when those nose marks are no longer there, and those circumstances will be so much harder than spraying a bottle of Windex.
My husband leaves the syrup from his oatmeal on the counter every single morning. I have a husband who gets up early to get things done around the house, who goes to work at a great job to provide for us, and who complies with my requests to eat at home instead of grabbing something out because it’s healthier.
The laundry basket is never not full. It’s full of clothes that we are fortunate enough to have. It’s full of clothes that we are fortunate enough to need for activities we’re fortunate enough to do, like work and exercise. It’s full of clothes that will be washed 100 feet away, with clean, warm water and detergent from the Costco-sized jug that we’re able to afford.
Our house is so far away from everything we want to do. We own a home. We can afford our monthly mortgage payment. We live in a safe neighborhood with a yard for our dogs. We have cars that we can hop into to drive anywhere we want to go. We have money for gas. We have GPS to find anything we desire.
Have you ever played the “would you rather” game? If I force myself to look at these problems as choices, I’m able to gain even better clarity on them. Would I give up the nose marks, the syrup, the laundry, the house? Never. With these problems comes some of the best aspects of my life. Wishing them away might leave me facing a set of circumstances I could never handle. The good with the bad. It’s all there. It will always be there, in this world; but what we choose to see is completely up to us.