Change Your Mind to Change Your Marriage!
When you’re in a rocky relationship, you want things to get better NOW…or 5 years ago! The average couple waits 6 years into a troubled relationship before they see a couple’s therapist. That doesn’t have to be you. There is one, simple thing you can do to start changing your relationship for the better. And you can start right now!
It’s All In Your Head
Have you ever heard of your mind being called a “reality generator”? It’s true. Your mind determines how you think, what you perceive, how you respond, and what you expect. Your mindset primes you to see, hear, feel, and act in a certain way. And that can be a good thing….or it can set you up for failure.
One of the things I see in couples therapy is what the Gottmans call “Negative Sentiment Override (NSO).” Basically that means that your brain is primed to
1) see your partner’s flaws and failures
2) perceive things from a negative slant & miss the positives
3) expect interactions with your partner to go poorly
NSO can be really detrimental to your relationship because it erodes your confidence in your partner. You start to see them as the enemy instead of someone you can turn to for support. You expect criticism, defensiveness, apathy, anger….and not surprisingly, that’s what you find!
I hear a chorus of “Yep!” reverberating across the internet. But what the heck do you do about it, right? How do you stop seeing your partner as the bad guy? Especially before their behavior changes. Here’s where you start.
Shifting Your Mindset
Unless your partner is a genuine psychopath, they probably have some redeeming qualities. Maybe he’s really good at playing with the kiddos or she’s awesome at making sure there’s always food in the cupboards. Start there. Find ONE good thing you appreciate about your partner and then TELL THEM. Yes, I’m shouting. For goodness sake, tell your partner something positive about them. It doesn’t have to be a big thing, but cultivating a family culture of appreciation is fundamental to a healthy, happy relationship.
In the same way that your mind has been primed to see your partner’s flaws, you can start to see how they shine. You CAN change your mindset. Every time you notice something that irritates you, train yourself to find something you appreciate about them too. My dear husband tends to leave discarded paper towels all over the counters. Drives me nuts (to which he responds, “Short trip!” And then we crack up). But I’ll tell you what, that man can cook! And I tell him all the time how much I appreciate that.
Your mind is a powerful thing. And you get to decide what it sees. I’m not telling you to ignore things that concern you or to live in denial. I’m saying there’s more to your partner than the negative you’ve gotten used to seeing. NSO ignores your partner’s positive traits and focuses your attention on their flaws. But we can shift your mindset toward the positive! Instead of searching for “opportunities for growth,” you can start to see and celebrate your partner’s strengths.
Steering The Titanic
If you and your spouse are used to negative interactions with each other (or avoiding each other because of past negativity), it might take some time to find the good in them. But it’s there. You chose this person for a reason, right? Sometimes it might feel like you've hit so many icebergs in your relationship that steering the ship seems impossible. But you can turn this baby around! Start right now by listing 3 things you value about your partner. Go ahead, I can wait.
Now that your mindset is positive, let’s talk about how you respond to your partner. Sometimes when you see negativity in them, it’s because it’s real (and not in your head). With Negative Sentiment Override, their bad mood becomes your bad mood. You might get defensive about their complaining or roll your eyes in annoyance. But, let’s just slow down for a sec.
What if their bad mood is just about them? Maybe they had a crappy day at work or the kids have been cranky all day and they’re exhausted. Maybe they’re snapping at you because they’re hangry (you know, angry because they’re hungry). Positive Sentiment Override gives your partner the benefit of the doubt. It assumes good intentions even if the actions don’t quite hit the mark. It’s a grace-filled view of your partner. And that makes a difference. First in you, then in your partner.
Happy Spouse, Happy House
Yep, it’s a cheesy saying. But it’s true, right?!? When your mindset is primed for the positive, your behavior follows. You say please and thank you more. You notice those little acts of service your partner does. You compliment their efforts. You let their grumpy mood pass without getting your undies in a bunch. And before you know it, this becomes the new norm.
A better relationship with your loved one starts in your head. But don’t let it stay there! If you see something, say something. Let your partner know what you value about them. Make a decision, right now, to notice 3 positive things about your partner every day. And then tell them about it!
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