How They are Damaging Your Relationships
A negative interpretation is when you or someone else (particularly your partner) consistently believes the motives of the other are more negative than they actually are. For example, if your partner forgets to take out the trash and you interpret this behavior as intentionally malicious or selfish on their part. Or if you are late to meet up with someone (maybe traffic was bad or maybe you struggle with compulsively making sure all the doors are locked before you leave) and they interpret your lateness as an intentional choice on your part to disrespect them and they time they have put into scheduling a meetup with you.
Give People You Love the Benefit of the Doubt
Often, there is a rational explanation for why the people you love do the things they do that frustrate you, and usually these reasons are not intentionally malicious or negative. Giving someone the benefit of the doubt goes both ways and there are ample opportunities throughout every interaction to see the perspective of your loved one.
For example, let’s say you are late to meet up with your loved one because your anxiety causes you to compulsively make sure everything in your home was secure before you left. You arrive late and your loved one is frustrated and angry with you. Your loved one makes a negative interpretation of your behavior and says, “you are inconsiderate, selfish, and lazy.”
You notice this triggers an emotional response inside of you that in turn gives rise to your own negative interpretation of your loved one’s verbal criticism. Your think to yourself, “my loved one is an aggressive jerk and is incapable of understanding the struggles of others” (negative interpretation). You now have a choice: (1) to match your loved one’s negative interpretation with your own negative interpretation (an eye for an eye) or (2) think about a rational explanation for why your loved one is behaving in that way, read in-between the lines of what they are communicating, and validate how they are feeling. Maybe your loved one has past issues with people letting them down and not following through with what they said they would do. Maybe your tardiness has triggered that issue for them. Maybe they need you to understand that about them.
Of course, you also need them to understand that your anxiety contributed to why you were late, that you are not a selfish, inconsiderate, and lazy person. You can communicate that need to them once they calm down and feel validated that you understand them.
Be Mindful of When Negative Interpretations are Entering Your Thoughts
Negative interpretations are pervasive in our society. It’s easier to villainize others for their behavior than it is to understand why they do what they do. It takes extra work and thoughtfulness on your part to come up with rational explanations for why people do things. This is especially important with your significant other, but it extends to relationships with family and friends as well. The more effort you put into understanding why your loved one does what they do, the more empathy you can have for their process, and the more you show them that you understand and accept them for it, the closer your bond will be.