A couple laughs in the kitchen representing positivity in relationships

What if I told you there was one, simple, powerful tool you can hone in your relationship toolbox that can protect against disconnection, infidelity, and a whole host of other common relationship killers? Bold claims, I know. However, there is one keystone habit you and your partner can use to promote the behaviors you want — and curb the ones you don’t. Cultivating positivity in your relationship may sound deceptively simple, but in my years of working with couples as a couples therapist and relationship coach, I have seen just how impactful and far-reaching this concept is. 

Positivity is more than seeing the glass half full; it is a skill that can be practiced, just like strengthening a muscle in your body. Using positivity in your relationship and with your partner can prevent against Negative Sentiment Override, serve as the antidote to contempt (one of the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” in relationships), and prevent negative emotions from literally taking over your relationship. So how does this work? 

Research by psychologist John Gottman and his colleagues’ found that if negative emotions are left to fester and tension lingers between a couple, this can shift how they view and experience each other. Rather than being able to repair after a fight or talk about the things that felt hurtful, partners will build resentment against each other and start feeling — or even worse — exhibiting contempt towards each other. 

A relationship that started with seeing each other positively and truly liking our partner, turns into being unable to give them the benefit of the doubt and feeling like we are no longer friends. This is negative sentiment override, and it can destroy relationships if left unchecked. Without being able to effectively repair and defuse tension, negative patterns can become like quicksand dragging down the entire relationship. Communication feels harder and even painful, so we stop talking to each other. We may start to consciously or unconsciously spend less time together and no longer know what is going on in each other’s inner world. This lack of emotional intimacy can leave your relationship vulnerable to physical or emotional infidelity, as well as feeling lonely and disconnected, like roommates or ships passing in the night. 

Fortunately, there are some surprisingly simple things you can practice to prevent negativity from infiltrating your relationship and how you feel about your partner.

The Power of Positivity in Your Relationship

The key here is: when practiced consistently, and in big and small ways, positivity in your relationship will be there in the times you need it most. Each time you thank your partner for something they did, compliment them, express admiration, give them a warm smile or extra grace, this will trickle down in a way your partner feels. How your partner feels towards and about you influences their behavior in the relationship, creating a positive feedback loop that can buffer against future misunderstandings, disappointments, and moments of stress

This doesn’t mean these things won’t happen, but when we have positive experiences to draw from in our mental and emotional bank accounts, we can handle these challenges together without the extra resentment or negativity. Promoting positivity in your relationship can include giving your partner the benefit of the doubt, and fostering fondness and admiration for each other by explicitly telling your partner the traits and behaviors you appreciate and enjoy about them. All of this comes together to support your friendship in the relationship, as well as your physical and emotional health. We know from research the impact of negative relationships on our bodies and mental health, so keeping negativity at bay is important not just for your relationship but for your overall well-being as well. 

Tips for Cultivating Positivity in Your Relationship

Here are some additional strategies and practices to cultivate positivity in your relationship:

  • Manage contemptuous/critical thoughts: Reframe feedback to align with your values, try to see the same trait in yourself, and plan to talk to your partner about complaints to prevent resentment from growing. Be mindful of negative thoughts or assumptions about your partner. This doesn’t mean you can’t be upset about something or give your partner feedback, but do so without contempt or criticism, and instead with respect and assertiveness.
  • Foster Fondness + Admiration: Tell your partner what you appreciate and love about them — big and small. Notice that they unloaded the dishwasher? Think they look cute in their outfit? Tell them! No one ever gets tired of hearing these things, especially from their partner. This also includes being warm and friendly with each other, in a way that is authentic to you and to your relationship together. 
  • Amplify Positives: We can increase pleasure and positive feelings when we share in things we enjoy or things that make us happy with our partner. Coincidentally, this can also strengthen your bond and connection. As they say, emotions can be contagious and this is particularly true for positivity.
  • Sharing dopamine-releasing experiences together leads to a mutual amplification effect. Rather than keeping a positive emotion to yourself, ride that wave and direct that positive energy towards your partner. This could look like: Imagine you are driving home after a fun summer evening dinner with friends. You’ve got the window down, the temperature is perfect, and you are jamming out to your favorite song when you get home, and you feel great. To mutually amplify this positive feeling, when you get inside and find your partner you give them a hug and kiss, look into their eyes, and tell them how much you love them. Your partner is sure to feel good after that! If you just went inside and sat beside them watching TV, this would be fine but you’re reading this because you want more than fine 🙂
  • Another way to mutually amplify positive feelings is through joint attention. This is when you use an outside object, activity, or experience together and use those feelings to create more positive emotion between you and your partner. For example: If you and your partner go on a hike and rest at the summit, as you admire the view, you could turn to them and say something like, “Wow, this is amazing. I am so glad to be here with you.” Or, you and your partner are watching your child play outside. You turn to them and say, “She is creative like you, I love the family and life we’ve created together.”
  • Cultivate Playfulness: When was the last time you and your partner were playful together? Shared a big belly laugh? Consider potential activities you can do together that feel light, fun, and create a sense of ‘play’ in your relationship whether that is through travel, activities, games, or more. 
  • Wave a White Flag During Conflict: Infuse warmth, friendliness, and other elements of positivity into your conflict to prevent things from getting too escalated and to help your partner feel emotionally safe with you. Engaging in these skills can also help you self-soothe and keep the conversation productive. This can look like: using phrases like “I know we don’t see eye to eye on this, but I know we will be able to work it out.” or “I love you, I feel like we are missing each other on this. Can we come back to this on Friday?,” engaging in appropriate humor (beware of sarcasm), and physical touch such as a hug, hand on their arm, or knee to show comfort and/or care. 

Support for a Positive, Satisfying Relationship

I hope you found these tips helpful, and that this article gave you some new ideas for creating a more positive relationship with your partner. If you are interested in doing this valuable work with me, I invite you to schedule a free consultation

Best regards, 

Josephine M., M.S., LMFT

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