Build your dream marriage part 6: Rid your relationship of “invisible abuse”


Did you know that most marriage partners regularly abuse each other? And they do it without even realizing it.


That’s right. There is an “invisible abuse” that keeps us from having our dream marriage.

Experts tell us that any form of negativity in our relationship is emotionally abusive.

If we want to build our dream marriage, we must rid our relationship of NEGATIVITY which is “invisible abuse”!

The good news is that you and I can do it!

And, when we eliminate negativity in our marriage, we can then extend it beyond ourselves – to our children, our workplace, and our city – making the world a better place.

Drs. Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt wrote this:

‘We now think of negativity as an emotional disease on the order of cancer. It is pervasively destructive and ultimately kills the relationship. But unlike cancer, negativity can be stopped in an instant. You can decide now to stop all negativity. Act on that decision and everything will change. To be blunt: negativity is invisible abuse and is an addiction of the human race. When you eliminate this invisible abuse in your primary relationship, then you eliminate it in your relationships with your children, your friends, and the broader world.  You become a person of peace!’


  • Ruptures connection
  • Stimulates anxiety
  • Eliminates joy

So, let’s get rid of it!

Here are three powerful steps to eliminate negativity, and rid your relationship of this “invisible abuse”.


Everything we achieve that is worthwhile begins with a commitment.

I’m asking you today to make a pledge to eliminate 100% of all negativity from your relationship.

You say, ‘Really? Get real, Chuck! Every relationship has negative issues to deal with. Not everything can be positive all the time.’

That’s for sure! But here’s the rub…

We can deal with all negative issues in a positive way, and thus completely eliminate negativity.

It’s also true that no one’s perfect. We will all inevitably fail at some point in our attempts to eliminate negativity. So the Zero Negativity Pledge includes several methods to repair the relationship when you don’t succeed.

How do we define negativity in a relationship?

Negativity is any transaction your partner experiences as a ‘put down’.

It’s any interaction that is experienced as devaluing or negating.

Negativity may be intense: criticism, shame, blame, deflection, disempowering, accusations, and contempt.

Negativity may be mild: in your tone of voice, an eye roll, or silence (ever heard of the ‘silent treatment’?).

It may be intentional.  Or, it may be accidental.

But, negativity in ANY FORM will keep us from our dream marriage.

It’s like putting a drop of sewage in a clean glass of water. It’s only a drop, but it can contaminate the whole glass with harmful bacteria.

In the same way, even a small amount of negativity can toxify your entire relationship.

That’s why I’m asking us to make the ZERO NEGATIVITY PLEDGE.

But what if we disagree over what is negative?

There’s an easy way to identify negativity in your relationship…but you’re not going to like it.

You really want to know? OK.

If your partner says it’s negative it’s negative! Your partner is the authority.

Your partner is the ‘canary in the mine’ alerting you to negativity.

Same is true for you. If your partner says or does anything that feels negative to you, then it’s negative!

So, here we go’¦

Click here and print out two copies of The Zero Negativity Pledge, one for you, and one for your partner.

Read it carefully and, when you’re ready, sign it!.

On the second page of the printout, you’ll find The Zero Negativity Repair Process, which gives you several ways to repair your relationship should you blow it.

Study it carefully, and decide ahead of time how you’re going to repair it when you fail. Because if you’re anything like me, you’re gonna need it!

The sign of a healthy relationship is how quickly you can repair it once your connection is ruptured.

Make the ZERO NEGATIVITY PLEDGE. And, if you would, please share your experience in the comment section below.

A second step to rid your relationship of ‘silent abuse’ is…

2. Share four powerful appreciations with your partner each day.

Guess what happens to some couples when they stop all criticism and negative talk?

They have nothing to say!

When I was young I was told, ‘If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.’ So, there were many times, I said ‘nothing at all’.

But this is a problem when we’re trying to eliminate negativity in our marriage.

When we’re addicted to negativity, it’s a hard habit to break, in part because we have to fill that space with something.

There is a tool I developed called ‘Four Powerful Appreciations’ that can help.

Click here to print this tool out.

Here’s how it works.

Plan a moment with your partner four times a day…

  • when you first wake up
  • when you leave for the day
  • when you come home, and
  • before you go to bed

Easy to remember, right?

During these four crucial moments, find each other.

Then give each other a one-minute, full body hug while you take 30 seconds each to say to each other, ‘One thing I appreciate about you is’¦’

At first it may be hard to think of that many new things you appreciate about your partner.

But the more things you share that you appreciate about your partner, the more things you’ll see that you appreciate about your partner.

That’s the way it works.

But you’ve got to START, and then STAY WITH IT! Four times a day!

Soon negativity will be flushed out of the space between you by this constant influx of positivity.

And your partner’s lower brain…you know, the part that has a negativity bias…will start to see you as a source of positivity and pleasure rather than a source of negativity and pain.

This will go a long way toward building your dream marriage by increasing safety and the feeling of connection  in your relationship.

If you find it hard to do it four times a day, join the crowd! Most of us find it hard. So start with one…then two…then three, etc.

But START! And KEEP GOING! You’ll get there!

A third step to rid your relationship of ‘silent abuse’ is…

3. Turn your criticism into a positive request.

Part of the ZERO NEGATIVITY journey is learning how to deal with negative issues in a positive way.

It helps to know that…

Negativity is simply a wish in disguise.

Samantha was critical of her partner, Paul.

Samantha: ‘You’re always late! I can never count on you to be on time!’

Using of ‘always’ and ‘never’ unfairly labels a person and assaults their character. It’s negative, and it’s abusive.

Through the Couple’s Dialogue, Samantha learned to express her frustration in the form of a positive request, rather than a negative criticism.

Samantha: ‘When you arrive late, I don’t feel like I’m valued, and it makes me feel sad. Then I get angry.’

Paul: ‘Let me see if I get what you’re saying. You said that when I arrive late, you don’t feel valued and it makes you sad and angry.

‘Did I get it? (checking for accuracy)

‘Is there more about that?’ (increasing curiosity)

Samantha continued sharing with the focus on what she felt, rather on what Paul did.

They continued the dialogue through the 3-fold process of mirroring, validating, and empathizing.

Paul relayed the message to Samantha that she made sense, that he could see where his being late would make her feel “not valued” (validation). He could also empathize with her feelings of sadness and anger.

Their defenses came down, and that made it safe enough for Samantha to share a request, and for Paul to hear the request and gladly grant it.

Samantha: ‘The next time you are going to be late, will you call me ahead of time and tell me when you will arrive?’

Paul was more than happy to do this.

This is how Samantha turned her criticism into a request.

What about you?

Can you see where negativity is ‘invisible abuse’ in your relationship?

Will you take the ZERO NEGATIVITY PLEDGE… replace negativity with REGULAR APPRECIATIONS… and then, turn your criticisms into POSITIVE REQUESTS?

Here’s to taking another step toward our dream marriage!

Next week we’ll look at the 7th and final part of our series…

Build your dream marriage part 7: Learn to be honest rather than ‘nice’

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    Author: Chuck Starnes

    Chuck Starnes is a relationship coach who is passionate about helping couples find the safety, connection, passion and full-aliveness they are looking for together. He also helps organizations become more productive by improving relationship and communication skills.

    4 thoughts on “Build your dream marriage part 6: Rid your relationship of “invisible abuse””

    1. This content is excellent. Your a genius chuck.

    2. Chuck ,I just wanted to take a couple of minutes and say excellent ! These tools are just what we need to be able to succeed. When we can take time to try to better ourselves by being positive, it equals a positive successful marriage. Thank you for caring about the foundation of our families.

    Comments are closed.