The Power of the Positive
The Power of the Positive
By T. Scott Sewitch, Ph.D.
Beacon Behavioral Services
Our previous article described the damage which ensues when marital partners try
to get their needs met through arguing, belittling, withholding, and other
negative tactics. We went on to suggest that better results can be obtained with
positive change strategies. This article describes some of these strategies.
Appreciation and Praise: People like to be appreciated. However, when men
and women are unhappy with one another in a relationship, they often focus
intently on their problems. Much of their communication to one another revolves
around various complaints and criticisms. This only increases the level of
tension and unhappiness in the relationship. Tense, unhappy people rarely do a
good job of fixing relationship problems - they just perpetuate them. An
alternative approach is to make a purposeful effort to notice the positive
aspects of your spouse’s behavior, and openly express your appreciation to them.
You can do this even though there are other things about which you remain
unhappy. For example, you might tell your partner that you appreciate their hard
work and financial contribution to the household, or their efforts at parenting.
You can thank them for helping with a chore or errand, or notice if they wear an
attractive article of clothing. When you’re more appreciative of your partner,
they will tend to appreciate you more as well. This helps to create a more
positive atmosphere in the relationship, encouraging compromise and a desire to
please one another.
Listening: Just as people like to be appreciated, they also like to feel
that they have been listened to and are understood. Usually we listen just long
enough to know what we want to say next - often a criticism or rebuttal of our
partner’s statement. One way to change this is to really try to understand your
partner’s thoughts and feelings from their point of view. You don’t necessarily
need to agree with them. You just need to listen well enough and long enough for
them to know you truly listened. Instead of saying, “Stop nagging me about my
going fishing,” you could say, “Do you feel that I’m being inconsiderate of you
because I made plans to go fishing all day Saturday without talking to you
Having Fun Together: In the initial stages of a relationship, when people
are developing positive feelings for one another, their time together often
consists of a series of “dates” during which they enjoy their time together.
After years of marriage, fun activities often drop out of their lives as they
focus on household responsibilities, paying bills and raising children. There’s
a good chance the spark of positive feeling between you can still be found in
those activities you used to enjoy together but have stopped doing. Plan to
reintroduce “fun” into your lives.
Transforming Complaints into Positive and Specific Requests: It is
entirely normal and expected in relationships for people to be dissatisfied at
times, and to want things to change. However, no one likes to be the target of
complaints and criticism. Thus, in order to help our partners cooperate with our
desire for change, we need to transform our complaints into positive and
specific requests. For example, instead of saying, “You’re so wrapped up in your
work, that we never have any time together,” you would say, “I would really
enjoy spending more time with you” or “I would like a hug when you come home
In short, catch each other doing something right, truly listen, have fun
together, and ask for what you need in a positive and clear manner. It’s not the
absence of negatives in our lives, but instead the presence of positives, that
can help us feel happier and more connected.