If you’ve been following the news lately, you likely have heard at least a little about the T.J. Holmes and Amy Robach situation. Long story short: The two allegedly have had a relationship going on, despite the fact that both of them are married.
After the revelation, Holmes filed for divorce from Marilee Fiebig, his wife of nearly 13 years. Although many people were surprised, others perceived red flags.
Take, for instance, this social media post Holmes dedicated to Fiebig in March 2020 for their 10-year anniversary. In part, it read:
“This particular #decadechallenge is a little late, but ... 10 years ago, Marilee Fiebig married me. And despite my best efforts, she remained married to me the past 10 years. That’s not hyperbole. I’m not being dramatic. I gave her plenty of reasons, excuses, and opportunities to walk her fine ass out the doooooooor. But instead, with her built-in black woman superpower, she showed a grace and patience that’s incomprehensible. Asking her for another 10 years would be asking too much. Another 10 months? That may even be a stretch. If she gave me another 10 weeks, I should consider myself lucky.”
You’re probably wondering what’s so bad about that, right? Well, although we don’t know if his intentions were benign or malicious, Holmes appeared to many to be doing what’s known as negging.
He’s hyping her up with the whole “black woman superpower” bit and how lucky he is she’s in his life, but he’s also pointing out to her (and the world) that he’s put her through tons of crap that she should’ve dumped him for way back then. Not a good look.
Negging can occur during flirting, on dates, in relationships and, as the Holmes example shows, even in marriages.
“Negging, a more modern term for a backhanded compliment, is meant to tear you down, make you question yourself or see the person who’s giving the backhanded compliment in a better light,” says QuaVaundra Perry, Ph.D., a board-certified psychologist at Perry Psychological & Consultation Services, PLLC, in Dallas.
Negging can occur during flirting, on dates, in relationships and, as the Holmes example shows, even in marriages. The point of it? To make you question your value, control you, get you to sleep with the person or think they’re such a good catch that you’re willing to jump through hoops to win their approval. Some folks will neg you to knock you down a notch if they think you’re out of their league.
We’ve seen similar behavior before. Remember last summer’s social media brouhaha after a Nigerian guy named Solomon Buchi went viral for his so-called love letter to his fiancée. Why? Well, here’s how it began:
“You’re not the most beautiful woman; neither are you the most intelligent woman, but I’ve chosen to never find perfection in anyone else.”
What the fudge?
He went on to write that it might not sound like a compliment to say those things, but he’s not looking for the best, he was looking for her.
Um, okay, sir.
The point of it? To make you question your value, control you, get you to sleep with the person or think they’re such a good catch that you’re willing to jump through hoops to win their approval.
The backlash was so seismic that the couple accepted an invitation to appear jointly on Lagos, Nigeria-based News Central TV, hoping to control the aftershocks. It is there that we learned that “life coach” Buchi’s unflappable fiancée, Adéọlá Àríkẹ́, while not the most intelligent woman, is an investment analyst with incredible professional presence. She also has flawless skin, dazzling almond eyes, a perfect megawatt smile, a bangin’ body, an impressive natural-hair game and Instagram-ready fashion sense.
Hmm. Why didn’t Buchi mention any of that instead of pointing out she’s not the most beautiful or intelligent?
Regardless of why negging happens, it can be harmful and possibly damaging to your self-worth and self-esteem, says Krashelle Cuffy, a therapist and owner of Siloam Trauma & Wellness Solutions Center, LLC, in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Some folks will neg you to knock you down a notch if they think you’re out of their league.
Signs someone is negging you
They’re heavy with the backhanded compliments
The difference between a real compliment and a backhanded one is that a genuine compliment doesn’t have a qualifier, Dr. Perry says. “You’re pretty for a dark-skinned girl.” “You look good to be… [whatever age].” “You’re cute for a big girl.” All negging statements. Dr. Perry adds that real compliments make you feel good; backhanded ones, not so much.
They constantly try to one-up you
You mention a recent out-of-state trip; your date says that’s nothing and brags about traveling the world. You’re happy about a raise; your spouse points out that they still make more. When people do this, it’s all about exaggerating and complimenting themselves to make you feel less than, Cuffy explains.
They compare you with others
Dr. Perry says this can be subtle or direct. The person may talk about how an ex did something or compare your cooking with their mama’s (with Mama winning, of course). A friend of mine was seeing a guy who told her he usually dates models, but he’s trying something different with her. Jerk!
Their questions feel like insults
Think, “Are you going to wear your hair like that tonight?” Basically, it’s not a question, just a passive-aggressive way of expressing displeasure, Cuffy says.
They regularly point out your “flaws”
Someone who’s negging you will try to use any little thing they can to break you down, Cuffy says. Ones I’ve heard in the past: “You can’t call yourself a writer if you don’t write books” and “You’ll be right when you lose 20 pounds.”
How to respond to negging
If it’s somebody you just met or have only been on a few dates with, Cuffy says to run the other way, Sis!
In a serious relationship, address negging directly. Try, “That sounded like a backhanded compliment. I wonder if you intended for it to come across that way,” says Dr. Perry. Or, if it’s an ongoing thing, you might say, “I feel hurt when you make comments that suggest my body looks bad.”
If your love apologizes and is more careful with wording in the future, good. However, if your partner gets defensive, accuses you of being overly sensitive or claims it was a joke, those are red flags, Dr. Perry says.
Cuffy adds that unchecked negging can turn into emotional abuse. So it’s best to address it ASAP. That may mean trying to work through it together with the help of a relationship counselor or another mental health professional. Or you may choose to walk away. Whatever your decision, remember: You deserve to be with someone who makes you feel good about yourself and the relationship.