Consider these two scenarios.
Dave has been married for 10 years. When he is away from his partner and thinks of her, he usually thinks about how she doesn’t help out around the house enough or about recent fights they’ve had.
Sarah has been in a relationship for six years. When she is away from her partner and thinks of him, most of the time she thinks fondly about past vacations or other positive (and even neutral) memories.
In both of these scenarios, the crucial difference between Dave and Sarah is how positively or negatively they view their partner. Dave is showing signs of what Drs. John and Julie Gottman call Negative Sentiment Override, while Sarah appears to be in Positive Sentiment Override. This means that their overarching view of their partner, and ultimately their relationship, is seen through either a positive or negative lens.
Positive Sentiment Override (PSO) or the Positive Perspective is something that couples can work on every day. Having a Positive Perspective of your partner and your relationship helps to more effectively problem solve during conflict, make more repair attempts (an action or statement that aims at reducing escalating conflict), and generally see your partner in a more positive light.
Negative Sentiment Override (NSO) or the Negative Perspective, on the other hand, distorts your view of your partner to the point where positive or neutral experiences are perceived as negative. Couples in the Negative Perspective don’t give each other the benefit of the doubt.
So, given this information, how can you maintain a Positive Perspective of your partner and your relationship? Let’s take a look at three ways you can work on seeing things in a more positive way.
1. Let your partner influence you
Dr. Gottman’s research has shown you must let your partner influence you. When you have irresolvable problems in your marriage (everyone does!), you can either hold that against your partner or accept what you cannot change. When you accept your partner, you also accept their influence when discussing problems.
Let’s do a mini quiz to see how well you accept your partner’s influence. Challenge yourself by trying to think of how you’d answer these questions during conflict:
- I am interested in my partner’s opinions on issues in our relationship. T/F
- I don’t try to convince my partner to see things my way all the time. T/F
- I don’t reject my partner’s opinions every time we argue. T/F
- I believe my partner has important things to say and value them. T/F
- I believe we are partners with equal say in our relationship. T/F
If you said “true” to all of the above, you are likely to accept your partner’s influence.
2. Increase your fondness and admiration
Another way to maintain a Positive Perspective of your partner is to increase your fondness and admiration for them. An easy way to do this is to let your partner know of at least one thing each day that you appreciate about them or about something they did. What are they adding to your life?
3. Turn toward bids for emotional connection
A third way to keep your relationship in the Positive Perspective is to engage in what Dr. Gottman calls turning towards your partner’s “bids” for emotional connection. When you turn towards, you engage with your partner and let them know you value their presence and what they have to say. You can turn towards by making eye contact, smiling, and responding with validation.
One way to practice turning towards is to make your conversations deeper and more meaningful by asking your partner open-ended questions. Try it. Ask your partner, “What are you excited about right now?” and listen to their response with interest.
When you accept influence, have fondness and admiration, and turn towards your partner, it helps you maintain a Positive Perspective of your partner and your relationship. Access the current state of your perspective. Do you see your partner through rose-colored glasses?