Learn what the negative sentiment override is, and how to get out of it.

You heard it right. If you don’t know what the negative sentiment override is, then let me tell you.

The Gottmans have done over four decades of research with couples. They found that couples either have the positive sentiment override, or the negative sentiment override.

When you are stuck in the negative sentiment override, 50% of the time you don’t notice the positive in the relationship. Meaning, even when things are going well the relationship is ridden with the negative sentiment override.

When the relationship is in the positive sentiment override. You know when your husband tells you he’ll be home for dinner he is. Or, if he calls and tells you he’s stuck in traffic you know he is. You aren’t constantly doubting the relationship or thinking negatively of your partner. You also have positive things to say about your partner to your friends and family.

Answer true or false to the following questions to find out if you are stuck in the negative sentiment override:

  1. I felt hurt.
  2. I felt misunderstood.
  3. I thought, “I don’t have to take this.”
  4. I felt innocent of blame for this problem.
  5. I thought to myself, “Just get up and leave.”
  6. I was angry.
  7. I felt disappointed.
  8. I felt unjustly accused.
  9. I thought, “My partner has no right to say those things.”
  10. I was frustrated.
  11. I felt personally attacked.
  12. I wanted to strike back.
  13. I felt like I was warding off a barrage.
  14. I felt like getting even.
  15. I wanted to protect myself.
  16. I took my partner’s complaints as slights.
  17. I felt like my partner was trying to control me.
  18. I thought that my partner was very manipulative.
  19. I felt unjustly criticized.
  20. I wanted the negativity to just stop.

If you answered true to five or more questions, then you are stuck in the negative sentiment override.

If you are stuck in the negative sentiment override, it can be a scary place to be. You are questioning your partner and your relationship. You may feel alone. If you want to save your relationship, then you need to fight back.

While the Gottmans were doing their research, they found couples are always making bids of affection towards one another. There are a range of bids. It can be making eye contact, a smile or nod. It can be asking how your partner’s day was, or asking your partner out on a date.

What’s important is the bid is done out of love and that your partner gets the bid. When you enter a relationship you and your partner are coming from different backgrounds. You may have different ways of making a bid, which you learned from your family of origin. If you don’t return the bid your partner will feel hurt and rejected.

After a while if you don’t feel your bids are being accepted, you may stop trying. If that’s the case then your relationship is in the danger zone. I have seen this a lot in my practice. Couples get there and they aren’t even sure how they got there. This didn’t happen overnight. You need to work on putting the positive sentiment override back in your relationship. This isn’t impossible. Little by little you can get there.

Here are 4 tips that will help you put the positive sentiment override back in your relationship:

  1. Have fun together. In the beginning fun came naturally. You were excited to see your partner. You laughed together, a lot. You could talk for hours. Now, you can’t remember the last time you had fun together. Meaning simply laughed together. Sure, you have more responsibilities. You have a career, a house and children. So, where does this leave your relationship? Now, you need to schedule fun together. It’s just as important as your career, house and children.
  2. Rituals of connection. There are a range and a variety of rituals of connection. How do you depart in the morning? Do you know at least one important thing that will he happening in your partner’s day? How do you reunite at the end of the day? Are you excited to see your partner? Do you take a genuine interest in how your partner’s day went? Do you ask your partner out on a date, or have one standing date night a week? If you bring the children, then it’s not a date. This is time where the two of you can talk about things you need to talk about, without interruptions. Meaning, no cell phone. How do you celebrate birthdays, anniversaries and Holidays? Do you have any secret anniversaries that nobody else knows about, that you celebrate? When you have good ritual of connections, you will feel emotionally closer to your partner. This will also help with the intimacy in the relationship.
  3. What is your commitment to the relationship. This is the foundation to your relationship. How committed are you to your partner. The Gottmans found with their research that your partner needs to feel first in the relationship. This is how your partner knows that you have his/her back. This also means there is a lot of trust in the relationship. Trust is also the foundation in a relationship. Think about it, on a scale of 0%-100%. Where 0% is not committed at all, and 100% is totally committed. Where are you on that scale?
  4. How do you repair after an argument? The Gottmans found with their research, that all couples argue. Meaning, even the best of couples argue. What’s important is that they repair after the argument. Meaning they make up. If you don’t repair, then the argument will just continue and come up when you least expect it. One of the easiest ways to repair, is to say ‘I’m sorry.’ I know this sounds easy, but is actually one of the most difficult things for couples to do. This is really the best thing you can do for your relationship. Even, if you felt you only had a small part in the argument. The best thing you can do is to own up to it, rather than make up excuses for it.

It’s important to remember that it took a while to develop the negative sentiment override in your relationship. It’s not going to go away in one day. I see this a lot in my practice. Couples come into therapy and they want a quick fix. If that’s the case, then they are disappointed.

I know you want to bring back the positive sentiment override. And, I’m glad you have acknowledged something is wrong with the relationship. But, you need to be patient. You need to take a close look at what caused the negative sentiment override in the first place.

You don’t want to be passive here. This is your chance to tell your partner what you need. You also need to take time to learn about your partner’s background. Often, couples get married and they think it will erase the past. Meaning a difficult childhood or social life. If you’ve been married a while, then you know that is not the case.

You can’t erase history, but you can work towards a more satisfying relationship in the future. Start small, the next time you reunite with your partner at the end of the day ask how his/her day went? Listen and take a genuine interest in what they have to say. Listening can go a long way.

Most people need to feel heard, before you can solve a problem. This is another way that your partner will feel you have his/her back. This is the person you chose to spend the rest of your life with, and there are times it’s going to be hard work. Stick with it. All relationships go through highs and lows.

What were your goals for the relationship in the beginning. If you don’t feel you are working on them, then look at why. Don’t put your relationship last. This is the person you love and want to spend the rest of your life with. Put the hard work into the relationship.

If you liked, Are You Stuck In The Negative Sentiment Override In Your Relationship? There is more in Relationship Challenges.

I’m Lianne Avila a Marriage & Family Therapist, in San Mateo, CA. I have helped many people like you, put the positive sentiment override back in their relationship. You can sign up for my free newsletter for free weekly advice about relationships. You can also call me at (650) 892-0357 or email Lianne@LessonsforLove.com for more information.

Leave a Comment