Q. My husband is chronically complaining and often in a bad mood. He finds something wrong with everything and frequently has a pity party for himself. I don’t know how to help him or even how to live with him in a godly way. I don’t want him to ruin the holidays for our children – again! What can I do? Diane in PA
A. It is extremely difficult to live with a negative person. Check out my blogs on October 20th and November 10th to see if your husband might be depressed. However, some people are just habitually negative and don’t understand how miserable they are making themselves as well as the toxic effect they have on others. Bad moods and negative attitudes are contagious like the flu and you will need to do some things to protect yourself and your children from catching it.
You ask if there is something you can do to help him? The answer is yes and no. Yes, if he wants help with his negativity and sees it as his problem. No, if he doesn’t see it as his problem and blames you or the world for everything that doesn’t go the way he thinks it should.
You might try talking with him about his attitude, but I suspect you’ve tried that already with more negative results. We all are somewhat blind to our shortcomings, and this is true for a negative person as well. However, another approach would be to help him see what his pessimistic outlook costs him. When someone is chronically negative they are miserable, but what the person doesn’t grasp is that it’s not his life that’s the main problem. It’s his internal attitude. It’s the way he habitually thinks about life and responds when he doesn’t get what he wants or what he feels he deserves. When nothing is right on the inside, then nothing can be right on the outside.
No one thinks or feels positively in every situation nor is it always beneficial. But what our mind and emotions habitually dwell on, directly affects our mood, our attitude and our behavior. When we regularly brood on things that we don’t like or that are wrong, painful, negative or hurtful, we can’t feel happy. It’s impossible. The psalmist cried out, “My thoughts trouble me and I am distraught” (Psalm 55:2).
Constantly complaining and comparing one’s lot in life to others more fortunate causes us to feel upset and unhappy. God has hardwired our thoughts to be influenced by our feelings and our emotions are directly impacted by the thoughts we think. Dallas Willard, in his excellent book on spiritual formation, Renovation of the Heart said, “If we allow certain negative thoughts to obsess us, then their associated feelings can enslave and blind us—that is, take over our ability to think and perceive.”
It’s important that you not take responsibility for his feelings or try to cater to his bad moods. That will just make you and the children feel like you’re walking on eggshells and reinforce the lie that somehow you and everyone else is responsible to make him happy. When he vomits his negativity on you, do your best to shake it off as quickly as possible. Don’t retaliate. Don’t brood. And don’t get caught in your own pity party that feels gypped because you’re married to this kind of man. Distance yourself from him when he’s in this state so there is no secondary gain for him. If he doesn’t want to participate in something, do it without him. By doing this, you’re not punishing him, but helping yourself not “catch” his bad mood, as well giving him an opportunity to see that even when things don’t go as you want them to, we all have a choice in how we respond.
I’m currently writing a new book, Lord, I Just Want to Be Happy, which will help us uncover the obstacles to experiencing greater peace, joy, hope and love as well as how to learn to be a happier person. More on will be available on my website throughout the next year.