The Negativity Bias That Brings Down Relationships

Why Relationships Go BadHe says you look beautiful tonight…

But all you can remember is the last time you wore this outfit and the rude comment he made.

He says he’s never loved you more than he does right now…

But all you can remember is that time you argued and he said he regretted ever meeting you.

It’s hard to forget hurtful words.

You start to wonder what’s really true. Was he telling the truth when he said you looked beautiful … or when he made that awful comment? Was he telling the truth when he said he loved you … or when he said he regretted ever meeting you?

Does he ever tell you the truth, you wonder, or does he just say what you want to hear?

That line of thinking can drive you crazy.

But it’s not just you. We ALL do it.

Human brains latch onto negative experiences. Our brains assign much greater importance to one cruel comment than a dozen compliments. This “negativity bias” is part of our programming.

And it can sabotage relationships unless you’re onto it.

In a minute, I’m going to show you a technique that will help you break free, but first try this exercise to see whether the negativity bias is at work in your love life.

Take a moment to select a relationship from your past. Now, try to think of as many special, beautiful moments from that relationship as you can.

Next, try to recall a few awful, terrible moments from that relationship.

Which did you find easier:

Coming up with good memories or bad memories?

If you’re like most people, the bad memories were easier to remember by far.

There’s a reason for that, and it dates back to the dawn of human history.

Our ancestors needed to remember which tribes were hostile, which regions were dangerous, and which plants made them sick. It was more important not to get killed than to have a good time. Those who kept their attention firmly focused on avoiding bad things were rewarded with survival.

That strategy works. You use it all the time without realizing it.

Maybe you keep your purse close to your body because you once had it stolen. Maybe you obsessively check the fluid levels in your car because you once wrecked your engine. And of course you refuse to date anyone who reminds you of THAT ex-boyfriend.

Your negativity bias helps keep you safe.

But it isn’t really your friend. It’s more like a buggy software program.

Sometimes it works to protect you from harm, which is great.

But other times it malfunctions. It tells you to remember every rude comment or small disappointment. It tells you that even one rejection is too many; you should just give up dating and spare yourself the pain.

Soon, your life becomes a series of one hurtful experience after another. There’s always something to be upset about. Someone is always cutting you down. You don’t notice the good stuff, because you’re paying so much attention to the bad stuff.

Who wants to live that way?

You can’t turn off the negativity bias, but you can outsmart it.  Continue reading

What to Do When Your Relationship Gets Sick

how to solve relationship problemsImagine this scenario.

You wake up one morning feeling kind of crummy. You’ve got a slight fever, and your throat feels like sandpaper. Didn’t someone at the office have strep last week?

Crap.

You go to your doctor, fully expecting him to diagnose you with the strep throat. Because the throat-swab came back positive for Strep.

But he doesn’t. Instead, he tells you to take a cold shower for the fever, and he recommends mints to ease the pain in your throat.

Mints?! You need antibiotics for a bacterial infection like strep!

If that happened, your doctor would just be treating the symptoms without ever addressing the underlying cause. Crazy, right?

And yet, we do the same thing in relationships all the time.

When things are off in a relationship, it’s exhausting. You’ll feel drained and emotionally raw, like a romantic version of the strep. It sucks.

And it won’t get better if you just treat the symptoms.

Treating the symptoms of a “relationship bug” can take on many different forms. You might pamper yourself with a shopping splurge. Or respond to his frustrating behavior with some passive-aggressive jabs. Or even disconnect emotionally by avoiding real conversation and intimate moments.

The relationship will stay sick, and you’ll only feel marginally better. Rather than just treating the symptoms, why not deal with the disease?

I have three suggestions for getting over a relationship ailment.[i] If you’re feeling fatigued in your current romance, the cure is likely in one of these three places.

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Restore the Closeness with Repair Attempts

Restore the Closeness with Repair Attempts - repair your relationshipYou’re hanging out with someone you really care about when it happens…

You say the wrong thing.

He goes silent. His jaw tightens. Tension floods the room.

You’re desperately trying to think of a way to take it back when he stands up. “I gotta go. Catch you later.”

He’s gone without a goodbye kiss.

You’re alone, ashamed and angry at yourself. Why did you do that? Just when it was going so well?

It can happen to anyone. Even if you make a point of being the kindest, most thoughtful person on the planet, you can still end up upsetting the man you want to be with.

The words you said meant one thing to you but something completely different to him. Instead of asking you to clarify, he took it the wrong way. His feelings were hurt, you had no idea what you did to cause it, and it’s all a big mess.

This happens in all kinds of relationships, from romantic relationships to professional ones. So, it pays to take a closer look at what we can do when we upset each other.  Let’s talk about how to feel close again.

The Dance of Intimacy

The perfect relationship should be a harmonious dance. He puts his hand around your waist, you gaze into his eyes, and you swirl around the dance floor with sweet music guiding your steps.

A wonderful fantasy, but nowhere close to reality.

The reality of relationships isn’t easy to watch. You move together in step for a short while, then break away. The music comes in snatches, and you’re not always hearing the same rhythm. It’s easier to step back, because moving as one is too much work.

What do you do when you find yourselves on opposite sides of the dance floor? How do you find your lost rhythm and restore the closeness?

The answer is what psychologists call repair attempts.

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Three Ways “Fun Theory” Can Help Your Relationship Thrive

Three Ways "Fun Theory" Can Help Your Relationship ThriveHave you ever tried to get excited about something you didn’t really want to do?

A friend of mine is a runner. Recently I admitted I simply don’t like running enough to tackle the long distances she does, and what she said floored me.

She said she doesn’t like to run, either. But she knows it’s good for her, so she finds ways to make it fun.

For her, that means listening to music, staying connected with other runners, and going absolutely nuts buying running apparel.

The folks at Volkswagen think along the same lines. They launched a program called “Fun Theory.” Fun Theory is the idea that “something as simple as fun is the easiest way to change people’s behavior for the better.”[i]

In one of their experiments, they painted a set of stairs to look like piano keys. The stairs were directly adjacent to an escalator, but they wanted to see if more people would opt for the stairs if the stairs looked more fun.

Guess what? It worked![ii]

Below you’ll find three times when you can use the same strategy in your relationship. You can help your relationship thrive if you can turn the work of maintaining your relationship easier just by injecting some fun.

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