Of course there are emotional risks when falling in love. To build a relationship with someone else—any kind of relationship—you are going to have to take some big risks at some point. Positive psychology can help you appreciate what’s good and working in a relationship while helping you to get past “once bitten, twice shy” to broadening and building. There’s plenty you can do.
First of all, practice gratitude. According to Robert Emmons, you’ll know you are experiencing gratitude when you acknowledge that goodness exists, find that you have been the recipient of goodness from a source outside of yourself, and that as a result you feel both happier and motivated to share and do goodness yourself.
Gratitude is not without its risks. We all suffer from the confirmation bias, and it insinuates itself into our relationships making it hard to be grateful. Are things in the relationship going well? Give yourself a pat on the back, since you know you are responsible. Are things not so good? You know it’s not your fault, so pass the blame, please. Has your partner been especially loving and giving? You might struggle to feel gratitude if you think you don’t deserve the goodness, or think you deserve more.Take an Appreciative View
Take an appreciative view of the other person. Even when something is not going well, lots of other things are. What are your partner’s strengths? If you are feeling irritated, are you wearing your strengths buttons out where they can be easily pushed? Perhaps your partner is your opposite, a wild and spontaneous person and you are planful and self-regulated. (Read here to see how to rewire your strengths remote control).
Try taking a strengths vacation by test-driving spontaneity. Split the difference: It’s ok to set a time when you can just see what happens next. Be grateful when the unexpected comes along to sweep you off your feet.Savor
Savor what’s wonderful as a way to draw you closer, and stories matter. Listen to your wedding music CD’s together, show the wedding or honeymoon album to friends while you share remembrances of the big events. If you like to write, journal to one another to savor the experience of beginning your life together. If you are naturally full of gratitude and humility, practice thanksgiving. Are you drawn to beauty and excellence? Savor by marveling at a magnificent sunset or work of art. Let your senses luxuriate in a massage or a dinner out and share the story to savor it. Even practice anticipatory savoring while you plan a vacation or imagine a new home together.
Monitor Your Negative Affect
How often you feel the negative emotion disgust predicts relationship failure. When something disgusts you, what do you do? Think of a food which you really, really hate, or the smell of something rotten. That visceral reaction is disgust. The overwhelming desire to spit something out is active in relationships, and when someone else disgusts you, it is extremely difficult to like them. When you begin to feel disgust, switch to something—anything—admirable about the person. Everyone has something.
Practice Active Constructive Responding. Share good news with each other. This is called “capitalizing”. Be enthusiastically (fake it till you make) interested in your partner’s capitalizing. Be curious and listen for places to ask questions so that there is some give and take. ACR makes the other person feel understood, validated and cared for. You’ll both like each other better.
Listen to George Vaillant
Follow George Vaillant’s advice and “connect the prose and the passion.”
Relationship-building is often side-tracked by Eros, our lustful and instinctual love wired for envy, jealousy and mistrust. In his new-to-paperback book (out June 9th) Spiritual Evolution: How we are wired for faith, hope and love, Vaillant describes the joy in deep attachment, and the necessity of making oneself vulnerable, almost as a child is to its mother. No, this does not make you a wimp, but rather an altruistic, gratitude-filled, optimistic, forgiving, trusting partner. Therein lies the joy of connection, the expansive love that bonds you to one another in a so-this-is the-meaning-of-life sort of way.
So if you are still trying the same approach and expecting different results in your relationships, take an empirically sound, positive psychology-oriented risk. Best wishes to the happy couples!
Bryant, F. & Veroff, J. (2007) Savoring: A new model of positive experience.. Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Emmons, R. (2007) Thanks!: How the new science of gratitude can make you happier. Boston: Houghton Mifflan Company.
Gable, S.L., Reis, H.T., Impett, E.A., & Asher, E.R. (2004). What do you do when things go right? The intrapersonal and interpersonal benefits of sharing positive events. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 87, 228-245.
Vaillant, G. (2008). Spiritual Evolution: A Scientific Defense of Faith. New York: Broadway Press. Soon out in paperback.
Round Three Foxtrot (Newlyweds Dancing) courtesy of lepiaf.geo
Tango (Cheek-to-cheek) courtesy of Michal Osmenda
Paradise Found (Older couple) courtesy of Randy Son of Robert
A couple dance and spin around on the beach in their wetsuits courtesy of mikebaird