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Resentment and Negative Sentiment Override in Couples Therapy
How Couples Therapy Can Help Solve Negative Sentiment Override
Did you know that most couples wait an average of six years to seek couples therapy? You might not be surprised by that statistic. If you are reading this, you might be seeking couples therapy for the first time. Or maybe you’ve been before and you are considering going back. No matter your situation, you might still be hesitant about therapy for a number of reasons.
A common concern for many couples is whether or not they are “too far gone” to benefit from therapy together. You might relate to this feeling. Maybe it seems like the resentment between you and your partner has built and can’t possibly be solved. After all, your time together has been more negative than positive lately. Why does that happen? And can anything be done to fix it? (Related article: Relationship Problems- Contempt)
Today, you will learn about why resentment builds in relationships and about a phenomenon John Gottman calls negative sentiment override. Then, you will learn a few ways you can work to address negative sentiment override and resentment, and what couples therapy can do to help.
What is Negative Sentiment Override?
You and your partner are arguing… again. Everything they say to you seems to hit a nerve. As your partner rants about the things you are doing wrong, you mentally reflect on your past frustrations and become even more irritated. By the time it’s your turn to reply, you can’t even stick to the topic anymore and you start to bring up the past issues… how are you supposed to fix this conflict if so many things have been left unresolved anyway? (Related article: Marriage Problems- Defensiveness)
Sound familiar? This dynamic is an example of what relationship researcher John Gottman calls “negative sentiment override” (Source). Basically, negative sentiment override occurs when you have reached a point in your relationship where your negative experiences start to “add up” and influence nearly all of your interactions. Suddenly even easy conversations turn into arguments. The smallest misunderstanding turns into a disagreement. And, more than anything, you might both think to yourselves “we are in deep now… how do we climb back out?”.
Resentment is a common struggle that most couples face. And, if you are unable to address and resolve the resentment and your relationship stays in negative sentiment override, things will likely continue to get worse. In fact, Gottman found that resentment is a common driver that leads couples to eventually divorce (Source).
So, you have identified negative sentiment override in your relationship… But how do you fix things?
Small Steps Make a Difference
Negative sentiment override and resentment in your marriage weren’t built in a day. And they won’t be resolved in a day, either. But that is great news! Thankfully, small, simple steps and sincere effort from both you and your partner can begin to unravel the resentment in your marriage and take positive steps forward. Resentment doesn’t have to be permanent, but it will take effort to fix.
So, what are some of these small and simple steps you can take? How can you get started? Here are some ways to begin to fix resentment in your relationship:
Become a Better Listener
Let’s go back to that earlier example. In the argument with your spouse, you noticed that you began to drift off as they were talking. You mentally reviewed all of the past wrongs they committed against you and the frustration built. It’s important to acknowledge that your experiences and feelings are valid and real… But, in the midst of your own review of the past, what did you miss? What was your partner trying to communicate to you, and vis versa?
One of the most powerful antidotes to resentment in your marriage will be to develop the ability to truly listen to each other. (Related article: Building Emotional Intimacy). The goal when it comes to good listening is not to just hear what your partner is saying, but to try to understand their experience. It’s important to remember that the goal of difficult conversations with your partner should be to gain understanding, not to “win”.
As you have challenging conversations with your partner, take time to notice when you begin to fall into feelings of resentment. What specifically led to those feelings? Do certain responses from your partner cause you frustration? Where does that frustration come from?
In the height of emotions during a difficult conversation, it can be easy to become distracted from these little warning signs that things are becoming unproductive. The more self-awareness you can each have in your discussions, the easier it will be to spot and potentially address the behaviors that might be holding you back.
Create Special Moments
You’ve probably heard people recommend that you and your partner make time for regular date nights. Creating time to have fun and be together can help to create greater balance in your relationship to overcome negative sentiment override and resentment.
When was the last time you and your partner enjoyed trying something new together? How often do you make time to do something special, even if it is small? Intentional efforts to create joy and fun in your relationship can help to open the door for more productive and positive interactions as a couple. (Related article: Promoting Partnership). In fact, Gottman’s research found that couples who have an average of five positive interactions for every one negative interaction are able to more effectively overcome resentment than couples who struggle to balance their negative and positive interactions (Source).
And here’s the good news- those positive interactions don’t have to be grand, complicated gestures. In fact, small gestures can be more effective because they can turn into regular actions that are a part of your everyday interactions as a couple. The goal is not to eliminate all negative interactions; it’s to work to build an emotional foundation that can help you and your partner overcome your challenges together.
Couples Therapy Can Help You Address Resentment
You don’t have to struggle through resolving your relationship struggles alone. Couples therapy is an effective, powerful tool that you and your partner can use to successfully address resentment and negative sentiment override in your relationship. In couples counseling, your therapist will work with you to identify the interactions that are contributing to the resentment in your relationship. And, a therapist can help you and your partner learn and practice communication skills and other tools that will empower you to create the type of relationship you want; without resentment.
Ready to get started? Find couples therapy in Orem, South Jordan, or Spanish Fork.
Written By Lauren Adkins