What Does That Mean to You?

Posted on August 8, 2014


Last week I was at my wife’s family reunion.  My younger daughter and I flew back on Saturday as we needed to get back to work.  My wife and my older daughter (with more flexible schedules this time of year) stayed for a couple of extra days. I am looking forward to my wife coming home tonight.  By the time she gets in, I will be in bed asleep.  She did not bring her house key with her so I told her I would leave the front door unlocked when I go to bed.  I would not do it every night, but in our neighborhood, the risk is comparatively low in leaving the front door open for a few hours at night on a one off.

So what happens if I forget?  I would give myself a 90% chance of remembering to unlock the front door after I get home tonight, but what if I don’t?  What would that mean to my wife?

If that were to happen to you, what meaning would you ascribe to it?  My partner doesn’t love me.  My partner is inconsiderate/insensitive.  My partner does not think about me.  Or maybe…my partner does love me, he or she just forgot to leave the door unlocked.

In the middle of John and Julie Gottman’s “Sound Relationship House” is a floor titled “The Positive Perspective.”  In formulating this idea, they drew upon Bob Weiss’s idea of “Positive Sentiment Override” vs. “Negative Sentiment Override.”  As the names imply, this is about whether your overall feelings and attitude toward your partner and the relationship are positive or negative.  The Gottmans’ assertion is that you cannot work directly on the positive perspective, but rather you build positive perspective by working on the friendship aspects of the marriage (i.e. Building Love Maps, Sharing Fondness and Admiration, and Turning Toward Instead of Away from each other; each a topic unto itself).

Far be it from me to argue with the leading researchers in couple relationships, but perhaps I can add something here.  I think that sometimes the positive perspective or lack thereof can be a result of automatic negative thoughts.  For example, if you felt like you were not important in your family or origin, you may be sensitive to any action or comment from your spouse that makes you feel that you are not important to your partner.  Also past hurts in the relationship may cause that tape (or MP3) to play in your mind whenever your partner fails to make you feel valued.  Countering these automatic negative thoughts creates the ability to give your partner the benefit of the doubt.  This takes some practice to remind yourself that your partner does love you even if he forgets to unlock the door.

For the record, I did remember.  If I had forgotten (sometimes I can be absent minded), I expect I would have been forgiven.