Like any process of self-growth and healing, working with the habitual patterns that keep us mired in negative stuck places is a practice. When my engaged and newlywed clients ask me what to do about the negative lens through which they're viewing their partner, I tell them that they need to be working with it every day. The conversation begins something like this:
"I look at my fiancé and all I see are the negative things about him/her. Most of these things I never even noticed before we got engaged or they didn't bother me enough to spend much time thinking about them. But now it's all I think about. We'll be out with friends and my fiancé will laugh and I'll spend the next several hours annoyed by his/her laugh. Does this mean I shouldn't be with him/her? If I was really in love with him/her I probably wouldn't be feeling this way, right?"
I'll answer the last question first: No. The fact that your partner annoys you does not mean that you shouldn't be with him. It means that you're a human being in a real relationship! Once you're past the infatuation stage of a relationship, reality sets in and you have to deal with the fact that your partner is not a deity. He's not a perfect God. She's not a flawless Goddess. He's a real person with real flaws. She's fallible, just like you are. Instead of accepting this unfortunate fact, the mind focuses on one trivial attribute -- like his laugh or a certain mannerism -- as a way to try to avoid dealing with the bottom-line truth of your partner's humanity.
Sometimes the focus on trivial attributes is also a way to avoid dealing with deeper issues within you, like your grief about letting go of being single or your fear of separating from your parents. Instead of attending to the core feelings of grief or fear that are normal and necessary part of the marriage transition, your mind is protecting you by over-focusing on your partner. Your partner is, of course, the most obvious distraction from the uncomfortable feelings since he's the reason why all of this is happening. But the feelings really have nothing to do with him. And the more you focus on him/her, the longer the grief or fear will hang around and interfere with your ability to experience joy during your engagement or marriage.
Now to address the initial question about focusing on the negative qualities: I've discussed aspects of this in previous articles about projection, but since the topic of projection is so rampant and somewhat difficult to grasp, I'll talk about it again here from a slightly different perspective. When we're stuck in a negative cycle, we're stuck in a very low energetic frequency. This is harmful to our partner, to us, and to the third body of the relationship. As negative thinking is a form of addiction, it's essential to address its root causes: in other words, what is the negative thinking protecting you from feeling? This is the deeper work that needs to take place on a daily basis -- the practice of working with yourself and understanding the multiple prongs that comprise this transition. So you work from the ground up to shift the negativity.
But you can also work in the other direction and focus on shifting the behavior itself. Sometimes a shift in your behavior will facilitate the process of understanding the root causes as you'll be lifted from your negative stuck place long enough to be offered more insight. Shifting the behavior means that every time you find yourself focusing on a negative attribute about your partner, you consciously and intentionally replace it with a positive focus. So you think, "Ugh, I can't stand that my partner is shorter than I am," then catch the negative -- and fruitless -- thought and instead ponder, "What do I really love about my partner?" and spend time soaking into the state of loving. This should be done both in the moment and separate from the moment.
When I meet a client who's stuck in a negative over-focus on their partner I always recommend writing a daily appreciation list. Again, this is part of the daily practice of attending to an unhealthy emotional habit. Number a sheet of paper from one to ten and let your mind focus on what you love about your partner. You might not feel emotionally connected to the words, but sometimes the action itself will open up the clogged pathways that are preventing you from dwelling in the positive state of appreciation. If the exercise elicits grief or sadness, welcome those feelings as well. Since the addiction to negative thinking is masking important feelings, when the addiction is dismantled, the feelings might start to surface.
Herein lies the crux of Conscious Transitions philosophy, the truth inherent to transitions, and the central piece of any process of self-help and healing: Welcome the feelings. The feelings are good, the feelings are the gold, the feelings, when embraced with love and acceptance, are what will move you through the anxiety and confusion of your marriage transition and guide you toward openness, excitement, and love.
Sheryl Paul, M.A., has counseled thousands of people worldwide through her private practice, her bestselling books, her e-courses and her website. She has appeared several times on "The Oprah Winfrey Show", as well as on "Good Morning America" and other top media shows and publications around the globe. To sign up for her free 78-page eBook, "Conscious Transitions: The 7 Most Common (and Traumatic) Life Changes", visit her website at http://conscious-transitions.com. And if you're suffering from relationship anxiety -- whether single, dating, engaged, or married -- give yourself the gift of her popular E-Course.