A Blast from the Past
I recently was updating my computer and came across some articles I have written or contributed to. In 2013 I was asked by the Gottman Institute to write a response for two posts for US News and World Report dealing with relationships. Both articles address ways to strengthen your relationship.
A Focus on Positivity
The first article, “How to Claim (or Reclaim) the Love of Your Life”, includes interviews with well known therapists Harville Hendrix and his partner Helen LaKelly Hunt, and myself. My perspective represented Gottman Couples Therapy Method. It ends up that we emphasize the same thing, reducing negativity and increasing positivity in the relationship.
There are lots of reasons why it may be hard at times to keep a positive frame of mind in a relationship. The first place to start, perhaps surprisingly, isn’t about the relationship you are in. It is about yourself.
Start with “What did I learn growing up about giving and receiving positive feedback?” There are some family cultures that are not very positive, focusing instead on what isn’t going right. It could feel like “It’s never enough”, and the impossible demand of perfectionism create a blind eye for what is positive about oneself and others
Another version of positive-dismissing behavior looks like: “Why should I say something positive about what my partner should be doing anyway?” While your partner maybe agreed to certain tasks, expressing appreciation and acknowledging you notice goes a long-long way to creating positivity. It starts with noticing, then actually putting words to what you are noticing. It’s like the old joke that is a Gottman therapist favorite: “There was a farmer who loved his wife so much…that one day he almost told her.”
It is hard to notice anything positive when the relationship is in distress. We refer to this dynamic as “Negative Sentiment Override” (NSO). When partners feel distant and not understood, or important, or appreciated, then the negativity in the relationship overrides positivity. It’s about perception.
The impact of NSO is only noticing about one-half of the positive behaviors your partner is doing. Attempts to apologize or repair tend to not work. Partners lose humor and are more likely to give negative attributions to their partner: “You are selfish, you hardly ever think of me.”
The fix: increasing positivity. Over time, with enough consistency the feelings start to change, developing into “Positive Sentiment Override (PSO)”.
The second article, The Upside of Long-Distance Relationships, explored whether partners in long-distance relationships could have good relationships that last. Do people fall in love with a fantasy or a real person?
A reference to a recent study published on long-distance relationships, along with tips from different therapists reinforced the idea that yes, long-distance can indeed work.
Love Maps: Core to Intimacy
My contribution emphasized the concept of “Love Maps”. When we feel known by our partner, and we feel like we know our partner’s thoughts, feelings, ideas, and aspirations, then Love Maps are up to date. It is about knowing our partner’s inner world. It requires conversations with curiosity and interest in the other.
Admiration and Love Maps represent two of the three domains in the Gottman Friendship Model. The third area has to do with how partners connect and respond to attempts to connect. This domain is referred to as “Making Bids and Turning Toward”.
Sometimes life feels too busy to take any time just to talk with our partner. While there are times when the business of family and couple life needs attention, taking time just to hang out together builds friendship and closeness.
Hope you enjoy the articles. Building and strengthening relationships is do-able when we remember to express what we appreciate about our partner and the relationship. Taking time to check in with our partner shows we care and are interested.