Both parents and spouses can be guilty of a habit that undermines relationships. That is the habit of speaking up only to point out what’s wrong while letting good behaviors pass without comment. We all need to take responsibility for making our families an encouraging place to be. No relationship can thrive in an atmosphere of criticism. In fact criticism is so destructive that John Gottman dubbed it one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse – major destroyers of relationships.
The antidote to a pattern of critical interaction is a pattern of compliments. In a vacuum that might be hard to imagine. So to put yourself into the right mindset, try imagining that this is your partner’s last day on earth. Now assume that, even though you know this, you have to spend that last day doing the usual routine: work, cooking, cleaning, study. Whatever that looks like for you on a normal weekday.
What tends to happen when we put ourselves into that mental outlook is that we see everything with fresh eyes and a heart of gratitude. Suddenly, the ordinary looks miraculous, as Emily experiences in “Our Town” when she asks, “Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?—every, every minute?”
Try to watch your mate today with those eyes. Write down five specific things you notice them doing which you are grateful for. Then, tell them one each day for the next five days. Any spouse will appreciate the encouragement. But one with Words of Affirmation as a primary Love Language, will be especially blessed by this positive interaction. They will light up.
If your mate reacts with suspicion to this exercise, then it is a signal that communication has been in negative territory for some time. It would be a good idea to sit down and have a discussion about your communication as a couple.
About “Today’s Positive Interaction”
John Gottman, the leading researcher on couple interaction, has proven the power of positive interactions. In our classes, we teach couples to strive for a 20:1 ratio of positive to negative interactions. The most vibrant couples are at that level or higher. Recognizing that some people need concrete examples to learn from, I started our Tuesday series, “Today’s Positive Interaction.”