Therapist Blog

Act "As If"

Remember when you first fell in love with your partner? That flood of emotions, the giddiness of just being next to each other? In each other's eyes, you could do no wrong. You enjoy the pure essence of one another, and overlook any flaws or imperfections.

This phenomenon is often called "rose-colored glasses". We marriage counselors call it "positive sentiment override". This term, coined by John Gottman, a leading marriage and relationship researcher, accounts for much of the happiness in a relationship.

When we experience positive sentiment override, we are filled with warm and loving feelings toward are partner. We are thrilled to be with them. We don't take their bad days personally. We don't blame them for our problems. We can laugh away their shortcomings.

Positive sentiment override is the foundation for loving, respectful, happy relationships.

But what happens when "you've lost that lovin' feeling?" Well, it all goes downhill. Or, to use an expression I fell in love with while working in Australia: it all goes pear-shaped. Suddenly our partner's quirks become irritating, their jokes are no longer funny, and forgetting to change the toilet paper becomes a personal insult.

We call this term "negative sentiment override". You probably call it something else altogether, right? If you've been here (or if you are here now), you know the feeling. You can't imagine how you've stayed in a relationship with this jerk for so long, and you can barely tolerate being in the same room with each other.

Needless to say, relationships struggle for survival in negative sentiment override. Even the most generous and heartfelt offerings becomes misconstrued and mistrusted. For instance, I once worked with a woman who refused any gifts from her husband because "he was just trying to soften her up". This is a relationship steeped in negative sentiment override. Neither of them was able to accept any goodwill gestures from the other.

Can a relationship survive negative sentiment override? Yes, anyone who's been in a long-term relationship knows that you go through periods of frustration and dissatisfaction. That's normal. But it takes a concerted effort, preferably by both partners, to move back to positive sentiment override.

So, in the spirit of Valentine's Day, I'd like to offer you a challenge...

If you are in a struggling relationship, I'd like you to act AS IF you are madly in love with your partner for the next 30 days.

Act AS IF you are thrilled to be married to your spouse.

Act AS IF your relationship is fulfilling and meaningful.

Act AS IF you have eyes only for your partner.

Act AS IF you are the luckiest person on the planet.

Just in case you've forgotten, here are a few things that people madly in love with each other do to promote positive sentiment override...

Greet each other with a smile and a kiss.List all the things you really appreciate about your partner, and share them with him or her.Make special time to be together.Offer a foot rub or a back rub.Ask about his/her day, and really LISTEN.Send flirty, silly texts when you are apart.Have long lunches, even when you're supposed to be working.

You get the idea, right? And Valentine's Day is right around the corner, so what better time than the present to get started.

Simply act as if for 30 days and see what happens. At the end of the 30-day challenge, reassess yourself and your relationship. How do you feel? Has your relationship changed? How do you feel about your partner? Perhaps you'll have loved every minute of it, and reconnect with your partner. You may find that you weren't attended to your relationship the way you used to.

At the very least, you'll learn something about yourself. I challenge you to give it a try.

And please, if you accept the challenge, keep me informed on your progress. Connect with me on Facebook to share your story: http://www.facebook.com/JenniferSneedenLMFT.

And if you are really stuck in a bad place of negative sentiment override, you may feel that you need some help to jump-start the challenge. If so, I invite you to sign up for my Relationship Rescue workshop. It may be just the thing you need to turn your relationship around. Learn more here.