Building Blocks for A Healthy Relationship: PSO and NSO

Considered experts in couples therapy, marriage and divorce, John Gottman and Julie Schwartz-Gottman have been studying relationships for over 25 years.  The Gottmans have discovered that each relationship, broadly speaking, exists in a state of  Positive Sentiment Override (PSO) or Negative Sentiment Override (NSO).

A healthy relationship in a state of PSO is one where positive comments and behaviors outweigh negative ones about 20:1. It’s almost as if there is a positive filter that alters how couples remember past events and view new issues.

The DNA of PSO:

1. Love Maps:

This refers to knowing your partners’ world and showing an interest in her life whether it be work, family, or self. Love maps are especially important to learn in times of little or no conflict in the relationship. Fortify your ship in calm waters for future rough seas. Some dating TV shows reflect this concept by quizzing the couples on how well they know his/her partner. The more intimate your knowledge of each other is, the more defined your love map will be.

2. Fondness and Admiration:

A couple that is affectionate and clear about what they value and admire in each other increases PSO. Many recommend a daily “thankfulness” journal to list attributes of your partner or elements of your life you appreciate. A key here is also sharing what you appreciate about your partner. If you’re single, then write about what you want in a partner. This will help you gauge what you value in others and better identify those traits once you meet that special someone.

3. Managing serious conflict by Reducing Physiological Arousal:

Avoid getting emotionally heated by maintaining a soothed physiology during arguments. This means when conflict occurs address it in a way that does not promote a rapid heart rate, raised voice, or the development of a fiery red face. Speak calmly, no name-calling, and take a break (address it later) if things are getting too emotionally driven.

4. Kill her with Kindness:

Do your best to try and approach a problem diplomatically and when there is ample time, properly address it. Don’t initiate a conversation about a heated topic ten minutes before your in-laws arrive for dinner. This is also referred to as a “softened startup.” Examples of this would include, “you mean a lot to me and I was wondering what you think about _____; I think _____.”

5. Accept Desires and Wishes:

Learn what your partner wants and help her obtain it. Ladies, we may be in luck as women are typically nurturers and better at giving in this department. Think of these as “acts of love.”

6. Makeup Wisely:

Use humor or concede a point of contention (there’s about one effort every three minutes for most couples) to make up. It’s the attempts to repair and efforts to make up that count here.

7. De-escalate “Hot” Emotions:

Hot emotions occur when you feel an increase in physiological arousal. Breathing slowly (deep in your belly) and creating a “serene face” where you relax your facial muscles and create a neutral to slight smile will help to reduce this state. De-escalation techniques and efforts to compromise also mean admitting to the “seed of truth” in what your partner is saying.

8. Bids for Affection:

This means connecting through a shared joke, wink, kiss, or mutually shared smile. Think of this as self-esteem for a relationship. Making a point to connect in even these simple but meaningful ways greatly increase positive feelings towards each other.

9. Really Address Issues:

Find out the underlying reason for the conflict and how to meet both partners’ needs. The goal here is avoiding gridlock when addressing problems. During conflict resolution, it is crucial to understand your partner’s goal in the matter. We commonly make assumptions about what our partner wants and why they want it, often missing what they really want and reasons for it.

I hope these tips find you well and that you can keep them in the forefront of your mind while enjoying time with your partner or when thinking of a new potential partner. Remember it is not advised to confront Negative Sentiment Override directly; instead you have to build the infrastructure for Positive Sentiment Override first, and slowly shift to building it further. The idea is to replace the negative with positive acts over time.

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