Continuing on the theme of perspective, this week’s post is courtesy of BestMarriages counsellor Lawrence Stoyanowski. Lawrence is Co-owner of BestMarriages and has been a Marriage and Family Therapist for 26 years. He is also a Certified Gottman Therapist and a Gottman Master Trainer.
Over the last couple of weeks we’ve been talking about the negative perspective. This is something that I see a lot in my clients and in my office on a regular basis. It’s quite common and normal to be in the negative perspective but it doesn’t have to be that way.
Today I want to share ways to tell if you’re in the negative perspective and, more importantly, what you can do about it!
What is The Negative Perspective?
The Negative perspective as we learned earlier is a distortion of your view of your partner. It’s not just always seeing the worst in your significant other.
It’s an over-riding sense of negative regard, where even neutral or positive actions from your partner are skewed in your mind to be perceived as negative.
No matter what they do, you perceive it as a negative thing.
What is The Positive Perspective?
So, before we get into talking about the negative perspective, let’s talk about what the Positive Perspective is.
The Positive Perspective in a relationship means that there’s a lot of positive sentimental over ride going on. Well, that’s just a fancy way of saying there is more positivity going on than negativity in the relationship.
When you’re in the positive perspective you are seeing all positive behaviors and all positive language that your partner is doing as being positive. You are seeing all neutral things that your partner is doing as being positive and when negative things do happen in your relationship you are seeing them as negative and you’re seeing them for what they actually are.
So, what this means is when we are in the positive perspective we are not taking things personally and we are seeing things for what they really are.
Negative Sentimental Override
The negative perspective is something quite different. When we’re in the negative perspective we have a lot of “negative sentimental override” going on. And once again this is another fancy way of saying there’s a lot more negativity going on in the relationship than positive.
But it’s just not quite that simple either.
What this means is:
- We are seeing a lot of our partners positive behavior and words as being negative we are seeing
- We are seeing all neutral behaviors and words as being negative
- We are seeing all negative behaviors as really, really, really, negative!
Negative Sentimental Override is related to the development of negative attributions about one another and the relationship.
The Research Behind Negativity
Robison and Price (1980) actually went into the homes of couples that were not doing well and what they observed was that these couples who were in the negative perspective and had a lot of negative sentimental override were missing 50% of the positive behaviors and verbalization that their partner was doing and saying.
If we woke up tomorrow morning with 50% less money in our bank account as we did today, we’d be freaking out!
Yet, we do this in our relationships over time where we miss positive things that would greatly change our relationship.
What Robison and Price saw in their research and what I see in my office a lot of the time is that positive behaviors or words are going right over the top of our head, or we are putting a negative spin on our partners behavior and words.
Examples of Negative Sentimental Override
Here’s a quick examples of negative sentimental override in action…
Our partner brings us some beautiful flowers and instead of saying “Thank you babe, those are gorgeous,” we say something like “Okay what did you do now? Obviously you’re trying to suck up to me!”
Or we come home and our partner has made us our favorite meal. Instead of saying “That’s wonderful, thank you so much,” we say something like “Okay now, you’re wanting something from me because you never do this!”
We end up putting a really negative spin on a positive behavior that our partners did.
5 Ways to Tell if You Suffer from the Negative Perspective
So, let’s get into the five things that will show whether we are in the Negative Perspective and what we can do about it!
Hyper-vigilance is when we are scanning our environment for things to criticize rather than things to appreciate.
We are scanning our partner for negatives instead of positives. What we do is come home at the end of the day and try catching our partner doing something wrong in order to backup our negative opinion of our partner.
“Oh yeah, there it is. That’s what he’s doing – he always does that.” Or “Yep there she is. That’s what she always does – that happens just like clockwork. There she is doing that again.”
What we’re doing here is we are trying to catch our partner doing something wrong so that it will back up our negative thoughts and perspectives about them. But this becomes really destructive for the relationship.
What to Do About it
So, what we want you to do is start to scan your relationship for things to appreciate – not things to criticize.
In any relationship, even if couples are really struggling, there are always positive things and behaviors that our partner is doing. But sometimes, we refuse to acknowledge them and that gets us even deeper into the negative perspective.
This is an interesting one.
When we are in the negative perspective we get hypersensitive. In every relationship, there will be negatives that happen. Whether you’re in a great relationship or a bad one.
But when negative things happen in a relationship and things go wrong, instead of seeing these negatives for truly what they are and feeling them accordingly we feel them much greater than we actually should.
When something bad happens instead of looking at it and feeling it as a 1, 2 or 3 out of 10 we feel like it’s an 8, 9 or 10. It feels much greater than it actually deserves. We feel more upset than we should – more angry, ignored, rejected and even abandoned than we should.
Basically, what we’re doing is magnifying our feelings around the negative incident.
It’s sort of like we’re putting on some magnifying emotional goggles were we see and feel things much greater than they actually are. This is hypersensitivity.
What to Do About It
What we want to do is take a break and calm ourselves when we notice this happening. Then go back and examine the evidence and really think about how negative the behavior or words actually were.
When we take time to reflect from a logical and emotional perspective we can see a lot of times that malice was not intended. Or that it’s not as bad as we actually thought it was to begin with.
3) Not Letting Things Roll Off Your Shoulders
Once again negative things happen in all relationships, but when we are in the negative perspective we tend not to let them roll off our shoulder or sweep them off our chest.
Its like little emotional darts that kind of pierce us in the chest – “Ow!”
An example is our partner forgetting to give us a hug and a kiss before they leave for work. Instead of getting on the phone or texting them right away saying “Hey why didn’t you give me a kiss? You’re such a jerk!” we should step back and examine the situation.
Beware of Quid Pro Quo
What can also start to happen in this section of the negative perspective is what we call Quid Pro Quo!
So, what is quid pro quo? It is a legal term that means tit for tat!
And what we do is we get into this quid pro quo mentality were we start to be “emotional accountants” and we start to keep score. This is really destructive for relationships.
Any time that you are keeping score in a relationship, that is indicative of a distressed relationship. Love does not keep score and fairness does not mean equal. Fairness means that my partner does enough and I am good with what they do and how much they contribute to our lives.
But equal means I did this for three hours, I need you to do this for three hours!
If you’re in this kind of mentality then you’re in the quid pro quo mentality and you are keeping score. Chances are your relationship is distressed.
What to Do About It
In our above example, we could, instead, say to ourselves, “You know what… I know that he or she is training someone new in the office today and they are a little bit nervous about that. They must have just forgot and it’s no big deal.”
So, we figuratively sweep that negative feeling off our shoulder or we sweep off that negative dart that pierced our chest and make it fall to the ground.
No big deal, I’m okay!
Once again we need to step back and we ask ourselves “was malice intended? Did our partner really mean to hurt us or was this just a mindless behavior that they did due to some other circumstances going on in their life?”
We need to step back and we need to decide if this is a hill to die on. We can get into a big old battle about this but if there was no malicious intent and it’s not really that big of a transgression, why go there? Why keep score and get into a potential fight.
If we can let go from that frustration for the moment when our partner turned away from us, and the negative feeling goes away in the next 10-15 minutes, it probably wasn’t a big enough issue to bring up. It’s better that we just sweep it off our shoulders.
4) Not Giving the Benefit of the Doubt
I kind of alluded to this one in the previous section.
Giving each other the benefit of the doubt means coming up with a positive reason or excuse for our partners negative behavior and not taking it as a personal attack.
Here’s what can happen. We get up on a Sunday morning and our partner is in a little bit of a mood. The first instinct would be to take it personally.thinking “okay, what did I do now? Here we go again,” and possibly confronting them about it.
But that wouldn’t be the appropriate response.
What to Do About It
You could instead, step back and think about what else may be going on. Maybe, upon reflection, you realize “I know last night they had a very heated discussion with one of their family members. They’re probably still just upset about that.”
Taking it further you could also say to yourself, “By lunch if they are still in a bad mood, I will check in with them and ask ‘What’s going on? I can tell you’re not doing the best today. Talk to me.”
Once again we don’t take it personally and we try and figure out why our partner might be in that bad mood. Many times it has nothing to do with us at all but other things in life. When we realize this we can be okay with it.
Sometimes we just need to let our partner go and process things, relax or take a break. When we are in the negative perspective we tend not to cut our partner any slack or just give them a moment to process.
5) Not Biting Your Tongue
One thing that we don’t do when we are in the negative perspective is “bite our tongues.”
In any relationship there are moments where we want to take a shot at our partner. They said something incorrectly, they use bad grammar (which I do a lot), or they say something that just downright irritates us. We think “I must say something right now!”
An example would be contempt. Contempt feels so good on the tongue, and it feels good for about 5 seconds after you say what you want to say. But soon after it can go to hell in a hand basket.
It can lead to a fight for the rest of the day or our partner may ignore us for the next three days. It isn’t worth it.
What to Do About It
Take a break. Give it 10 or 15 minutes. If it still is bothering you then perhaps it’s an issue that you need to bring up and talk about.
Most times when we calm down it will just slide off the back of our mistakes plate.
There is an author down in the United States named Cokie Roberts. Cokie wrote a book on relationships and she has a great line in one of her books related to this. She says something to the effect of “as well as your relationship will be doing is dependent on how many bite marks you have in your tongue!”
That’s very true!
The Gottman Perspective
Dr. John Gottman gave us some great ideas on how to best and most quickly get ourselves out of the negative perspective.
Look at the first three levels of the “sound relationship house.” These are known as the friendship levels.
These friendship levels include Love Maps (updating your knowledge about your partner). Ask questions about your partner’s day. Be interested, not interesting.
Another level is fondness and admiration which basically comes down to showing your partner more appreciation and verbalizing that appreciation.
And lastly, turning toward your partner and becoming more involved in conversations and statements when your partner says something. You give a positive response and you become interested in something that your partner’s interested in, even if it’s for a moment.
Also choosing to do more things together as a couple can help. Whether that means joining a bowling league together, taking dance lessons together, grocery shopping together, or even attending church together, it’s important. These are all examples of turning towards our partner that can really help us get out of the negative perspective.
What Dr. John Gottman has seen in his research is when we are in the negative perspective, our relationship is not doing well.
But you can get out of it!
So please apply these few concepts consistently and your relationship will start to turn around!
Want to learn more about how to get you and your partner into the positive perspective? Call us today to speak to a certified Gottman therapist – 1-604-539-5277