A simple marital solution: Replace negativity with appreciation

Story by Barton Goldsmith
(Scripps Howard News Service)
Tue, Jul 30, 2013
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Have you ever wanted to read a relationship book without too much theory or confusing science, a book that anyone could relate to, but was sound and based in fact and experience?

The renowned creators of Imago Therapy, Harville Hendrix, and his wife and partner, Helen LaKelly Hunt, have recently published just such a book, “Making Marriage Simple” (Harmony). ‘‘Simple” here is not the same thing as “easy,” but it means that there are two fundamental things you can do to change your relationship for the better.

First, if you want a great marriage, you must sacrifice negativity. Stop using putdowns. This includes everything from little snide remarks, eye-rolls, tone of voice and criticisms to physical violence. These things devalue your partner and your relationship.

A great relationship is a safe relationship.

Negativity, the authors point out, makes you feel anxious, which makes you want to protect yourself by staying distant rather than connecting with your partner. You will continue to relate, but you won’t feel close. That is, you can’t feel connected if you feel anxious. That’s how the brain is set up.

Eliminating negativity makes your relationship a zone of safety, so the two of you know that you have each other’s back and that you can be vulnerable and intimate. When this happens, you will feel you are connected not only to each other but to everything else in the world.

To achieve this feeling of safety, the authors recommend getting out the calendar and making a 30-day zero-negativity pledge. Success will bring a greater sense of connection and the experience of joyful calmness.

Second, since zero negativity may create some silence, you should fill it by giving your mate verbal appreciation at least once a day for something he or she did that day. For example, say something like, “I really appreciate that you brought me a cup of coffee while I was still in bed this morning.” This will train you to catch your partner doing something good. Just before bedtime is a great time to do this.

Some good news: If things in your relationship have not been going so well, take heart, because Hendrix and Hunt have based their body of work on the discovery that incompatibility is actually grounds for a good marriage.

‘‘Contrary to popular beliefs,” they state, “nobody marries anyone with whom they are compatible. The ‘tension of the opposites’ is the cornerstone of all great marriages. So if you are struggling with someone, that means the energy of your differences is available for a dynamic and exciting growth-filled relationship. This allows you to be co-creative with your partner and build the relationship you both desire.”

Finally, the authors’ emphasis on zero negativity extends beyond personal relationships to the world.

They believe that healthy marriages and families are good for society as a whole because they provide a solid foundation for being in the world. They believe in this so much that they are engaged with other relationship experts in launching a “relationship revolution” that puts relationships first.

Barton Goldsmith, a psychotherapist in Westlake Village, Calif., is the author, most recently, of “100 Ways to Boost Your Self-Confidence — Believe in Yourself and Others Will Too” (Career Press, 2010)


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