Ah….relationships. They can be tough.
Anyone who has been in one that lasted more than a month can tell you it’s true … although not many people can put their finger on why. Why does it get so hard to just “be” with someone you love? Why do we find ourselves struggling to stay connected? How do we slip into feeling misunderstood, underappreciated, and sometimes even resentful?
Relationship experts over at the Gottman Institute report that healthy and stable relationships have a specific formula to them and it goes like this … for every negative experience there should be at least 5 positive ones.
According to them, if the ratio dips below that 1:5, the couple is probably headed towards trouble.
So, why does it have to lean so heavily towards positive interactions to make the relationship work?
Because our brains have a negativity bias.
We’ve talked about negativity bias before … the hardwiring of our brains to focus in on the negative, left over from when were all cave folk and our survival depended on our brain’s ability to identify negative threats and react.
So we’re sort of always looking for and over-analyzing anything that could hurt us, including heartbreak.
Think about it … if you and your partner talk five times in a day, and you have three positive interactions, but one neutral and one difficult one, which of those will you be picking apart all night, trying to connect their probably meaningless comment to the inevitable doom of your love? Which one will you most likely bring with you into your next interaction?
The negative one, of course. And it’s not your fault. That’s the brain we’ve inherited.
But here’s the great news (yep! I’m always here to bring you the good news), positive psychology and neuroplasticity (the concept that we can train our brains) have proven that we can actually change this negative-by-default brain to work for us! We can rewire it to focus on the good.
Accentuate the positive
“How do we do it, Cailin?” I’m so glad you asked!
One of my favorite ways to train the brain to focus on the positive is to go through a process I call “melting into a moment.”
Why? Because it makes a positive experience more than a passing moment. It turns it into a deeply ingrained experience that keeps the positive momentum in your relationship going. And it helps you not freak the heck out when your partner eats the rest of your yogurt without telling you and of course that means they don’t love or respect you anymore.
Here’s an example of melting into a moment … let’s say your partner comes home from a long day at work and has the milk you texted them about getting earlier (Yay! They remembered!). Don’t just do a mental check “Ok, now we have milk … one last thing I have to worry about,” and then move on to the next thing.
Stop what you’re doing and go up to your partner and say hello! Give them a big hug … or your display of affection of choice. Most importantly … thank them for the milk!
Let them know how it makes you feel when they do things for you, even if they seem small and trivial. Let them know how absolutely, madly you appreciate them.
Then stay in the moment. It’s a good one … why run away from it? Marinate! Notice how they respond. Even physically. Feel the way you’re both breathing. Sense the way you’re both standing when you both feel appreciated and connected.
I bet you they’ll remember to thank you next time you do something for them … and make sure you melt into that feeling too!
Here’s another example, if you don’t feel like waiting until you run out of milk. Try turning a mundane moment … when you might be feeling least appreciated or connected … into a reason to connect.
If you’re watching TV together, take in the environment around you. Notice how your partner smells … how they feel sitting against you or how their hand fits in yours. Notice (and appreciate) how comfortable you feel when you’re with them. Talk to them about the show you’re watching … how it makes you feel and ask them how it makes them feel. Melt into that moment.
Spark that fire again
I’ve seen so many couples use ‘melting moments’ to completely turn around their relationship.
Not only does it help shift that 1:5 ratio and allow you to survive those negative interactions and focus on the good, it also helps spark that fire again. Because when we get used to having someone around, a lot of times we begin to take them for granted. We stop noticing the small gifts that come with being in their presence and start forgetting all the amazing things they did to make us crazy about them in the first place.
Melting into the good moments, no matter how small or trivial, brings the magic back.
And here’s even better news. This works for any situation. Hate your job but you can’t leave just yet? Melt into those good moments! Maybe you have to really look for or start to create them? Do it! Tell your cubicle mate how you couldn’t make it one more day if it weren’t for her funny stories.
Take a little time to really sit with that feeling of satisfaction you get when you finish a project, or make a sale, or paint a new home. Take the damn full hour you get for lunch and really savor that amazing sandwich you get from the shop next store that you can’t get anywhere else.
You can use melting moments to transform your experience about anything! Try to prove me wrong … I dare ya! Just kidding, but really … it will help you transform any area of your life. But I suggest you start with love … always!
Cheat Sheet: Beating Anxiety with Self-Talk
Are you hijacked by your anxiety? Constantly making mental lists of all the ways that you could fail – and all the things that might go wrong?
Use this Cheat Sheet to transform your negative thoughts into loving and constructive self-talk – so you can ditch your anxiety once and for all!