Using Positive Sentiment Override

Being a great partner is not an easy role at times. Especially when things become challenging in your relationship. I have had some clients in a lot of pain recently and they have been acting out that pain by using negativity in their relationships (a natural first response). You may have grown up in an environment where negativity was the prevailing tone of the relationships in your home. This may have progressed to silence in your home where the negativity was still felt loudly. This may even be your personal default position or where you immediately go when there is trouble in your relationship. In fact, this may happen so often, your marriage partner may experience you as having a grumpy mindset.

The experience of that may look something like this in your current relationship. Your expectations, hopes, wishes or parts of ¬†your relationship understanding have been let down or hurt. You then ascribe a negative intention to your partner (you do some mind reading!) and you build on that hurt and negative intention (he/she knows I hate it when he/she does that – that just shows he/she doesn’t love me/ how can I trust him /her when he/she…) until walls are built to the point of no feelings of emotional connection.

John Gottman’s marital research showed that couples who do better in relationships are those who are able to have a positive sentiment override rather then a negative sentiment override in these situations. For instance, the hurt occurs and the partner does not immediately ascribe negative intentions but feels the hurt, understands it needs to be dealt with (not buried) but ascribes to their partner more positive ¬†sentiments. Some examples of choices of positive sentiment overrides are; we are having a misunderstanding, or something outside of the 2 of us could be impacting what is happening, or the the hurt partner could develop an attitude of curiosity rather then condemnation about what is happening around the hurt. It is allowing the problem to be something other then an outcome of a character defect in one or the other.

What positive sentiment override also helps to do is to allow you both as a couple, to retain the security of your emotional connection, while you work out your differences. When you develop this mindset, you are taking personal responsibility for the relationship and for making a complaint about what went wrong. You are not moving into a negative blaming position where you have no power to change yourself or the relationship. This can be a difficult pattern to change but the outcome is a much better alternative. It moves you towards being a better partner.

Be encouraged! Use this information to weave something potentially life giving to your relationship!

Posted by Lynda in Healthier Marriages