Does it seem like no matter what you say, your partner gets defensive? Does it seem like you’re always fighting? You might find yourself thinking, “She’s just too sensitive all the time”. You two can’t seem to get anywhere lately and, what’s worse, so much of your interactions end in fights. You’re likely wondering where did things go wrong and how, if possible, can we reclaim the passionate, attentive, and sweet relationship we once had.
One of the most likely reasons you two are in this immensely challenging place is you/your partner are trapped in a place called the Negative Perspective, also known as Negative Sentiment Override (NSO).
In this climate, we see much of, or all of, our partner in a negative light. We are hypervigilant to put downs, criticisms, and dismissals of our experience/emotion. Further, we don’t notice and appreciate most, or any, positives in our partner and the relationship.
In the acclaimed Gottman couples’ therapist book, The Science of Trust, Gottman explains that there are relationship studies that demonstrate that those unhappy couples in NSO miss out on at least half of the positive things that objective observers see in interactions between couples.
When a couple is stuck in this negative place, they are tremendously more vulnerable to continual fights and disconnection.
Alternatively, when couples are in the Positive Perspective, they are not overly sensitive, they experience many of the negatives as unimportant or neutral, and they hyperfocus on the positives in their partner and relationship.
How Did We Get Here?
To understand how you and your partner became lost in the Negative Perspective/NSO, it’s helpful to first appreciate the theory in which this is founded. The Gottmans formed their theory, The Sound Relationship House, based upon their research which spanned decades of studying tens of thousands of couples. From this work, they were able to distinguish the traits of the “Masters of Relationship” and “Disasters of Relationship”.
They then translated their discoveries into this Sound Relationship House theory, which posited that healthy and stable relationships have 7 solid “floors”:
1. Strong Love Maps,
2. Shared Fondness and Admiration,
3. A high percentage of Turning Towards each other,
4. The Positive Perspective,
5. Healthy Managing Conflict,
6. Making Life Dreams Come True, and
7. Creating Shared Meaning
For the purposes of understanding the pathway to and out of the Negative Perspective/Negative Sentiment Override, we only need to concentrate on the first 3 floors of the Sound Relationship House.
These first three floors (Love Maps, Shared Fondness and Admiration, and Turning Towards) compromise our friendship with our partner.
When our crucial foundation of friendship with our partner is poor, we are very likely to catapult into the Negative Perspective/NSO.
To form that strong friendship with our partner, we need to focus on those first 3 floors. When anything goes particularly wrong with that process, we can land right into a problem in that 4th floor: Negative Perspective/NSO.
Forming/Destroying a Powerful Friendship
1. Build Love Maps
Love Maps refers to the idea of knowing our partner inside and out, as well as feeling known by our partner. When our love maps are strong, we both experience a mutual interest in our experiences, likes/dislikes, greatest fears and dreams, and needs.
We build these through asking each other questions (predominantly open-ended ones) and remembering those answers.
Since so much of the initial honeymoon phase in a relationship is characterized by a hunger to get to know one another quickly, and therefore asking each other so many open-ended questions, this is a big part of why this phase is so exciting and rewarding. We feel so close and enthused here, in part, because we are quickly establishing strong love maps of each other, and therefore a powerful friendship.
One common pitfall is that once we are out of the honeymoon phase, we often stop asking each other these open-ended questions. This is particularly problematic given we consistently change. So, if we aren’t regularly asking each other open-ended questions, we likely aren’t changing together, and so the friendship can take a dive.
When we do not prioritize updating and maintaining our love maps, we can experience the following sentiments: “My partner doesn’t know and understand me and I’m not sure I even know and understand him/her anymore. My partner isn’t interested in me or my world and I don’t feel all that curious in his/her world either”.
We should strive, then, to regularly ask each other open-ended questions and, as a result, continually update our love maps. The free Gottman Card Deck phone application offers great ways to strengthen love maps. Specifically, the card decks called Love Maps and Open-Ended Questions are great options.
2. Shared Fondness and Admiration
This second level of the Sound Relationship House (also the second critical foundational element to a prominent friendship) refers to a mutual experience of liking, loving, and respecting one another.
We create this through habitually noticing, reflecting upon, and clearly sharing what we each like, love, and respect about each other. It’s a process of routinely scanning the environment for positives, as opposed to looking out for and highlighting mistakes.
Further, to foster shared fondness and admiration, you and you partner want to catch each other doing the right things and, as often as possible, clearly express your appreciation of these things.
When we don’t, we move ourselves that much further out of friendship and closer to the negative perspective/NSO. However, when we do this right, we actively cultivate an atmosphere of mutual love and respect, thereby bringing the friendship to stronger heights, thereby increasing our chances of achieving and sustaining a positive perspective.
3. Turning Towards
The most important consistent action in a relationship is optimally turning towards one another at a high rate. Turning towards refers to the process of tiny moments of attempted connection, often referred to by the Gottmans as “sliding door moments”. In these moments, where we try to gain our partner’s interest, affection, warmth, and/or attention, ideally, our partner notices and responds positively, if not enthusiastically, to us. Each time our partner notices and positively responds to our bids for connection, it puts “coins in an emotional piggy bank”.
The more money we have in our emotional piggy banks, the more likely we are to
· Dismiss the not-so-important negative things
· Avoid getting into a lot of fights, as well as a lot of intense fights
· Be able to access crucial repair attempts during fights/disagreements (such as humor, affection, empathy, and taking responsibility)
The research demonstrates that the “Masters of Relationship” (the couples that are happy, stable, and stick together over decades) turn towards each other about 8.5/10 attempts. Specifically, the research tells us that those with about an 86% turning towards rate stayed together 6 years after marriage, whereas those with a roughly 33% turning towards rate had split up by that 6-year mark (Gottman and Silver, 2012).
If you and your partner find this is an area of needed improvement, you both will want to focus on regularly improving your mindfulness/awareness of each other’s bids for connection, as well as the needs/requests beneath the bids.
Learn More About Why You and Your Partner are Always Fighting, as Well as How to Fix Things Through Online Couples Therapy in California, Oregon, and Florida
We realize how frustrating and hopeless it can feel to be stuck fighting all the time, especially when you can vividly recall the time when you and your partner had a much more peaceful, loving, and kind relationship. At Stress Solutions, we are committed to aiding you and your loved one learn about the 3 foundational pieces of a strong friendship and how to best strengthen these to get yourselves back to that terrific place. You absolutely do not have to keep seeing the negatives in each other and fighting all the time; when we help you two to rediscover your incredible friendship, you will find your way out of that negative perspective, and into that cherishing friendship and relationship you both deserve!
To learn more about how to rediscover those positive feelings and atmosphere or to schedule a free consultation with a couples’ therapist in California, Oregon, or Florida, we encourage you to reach out to us.