Literally, think again. And then think about what you are thinking about- especially around anger issues.
As famous psychologist William James said over 100 years ago:
“Man can alter his life by altering his thinking.”
The case of Sally and Jim
Sally and Jim sat in my office glaring at each other. Sally told a story around an angry conflict they had had eariler in the week.
I found Sally to be quite humorous and entertaining. But Jim had an entirely different perception. Getting more and more agitated and angry as he listened to his wife, he looked at me and said “see what I mean, doc? Isn’t she irritating?
“I don’t find her irritating,” I replied. I then went on to explain that “irritation” (or most other traits or ways of relating) isn’t as much in the partner as in your perception of it- or how you think about it- or the general attitude you have toward your partner to begin with.
In other words,your mental set or mental framework you have toward your partner influences how you interpret what they do or how they are.
Negative and positive sentiment override
There is much marital research at the Gottman institute to back this up. There, researchers discovered something called “negative sentiment override” vs positive sentiment override.”
In Gottman’s theory, when negative sentiment override (NSO) is present, there is a discrepancy between the perceptions of the receiver and the sender of an interaction. Just like Jim, we can distort and see a communication through a negative lens, even when their partner did not intend it to be negative. In fact, objective observers may not perceive the interaction to be negative, at all. (just as I didn’t see Sally as irritating, like Jim did).
It is in the “eyes of the beholder” so to speak, that he or she are on the receiving end of something negative. By contrast, In positive sentiment override (PSO), negative interactions are not seen as particularly negative, or at least they are not taken personally. When there is PSO between a couple, the partners give each other the benefit of the doubt.
Even if one partner IS conveying negativity in content or tone, the other does not personalize, react to, match, or “store away for a rainy day” their partner’s bad mood, negativity, etc.
Getting from negative to more positive sentiment overide: Two Steps
Sounds good, but how does a couple shift from negative to positive sentiment override? Try these two steps as a startup strategy:
Step 1- Try to become friends again by doing things you enjoy together -like when you were dating. I know there are any obstacles to this: children, Covid-19 pandemic, money ,etc but try a little harder to re-connect.
See the attached worksheet to give you some more ideas.
Step 2- Consciously alter you thought patterns about your partner by looking at what you are telling yourself about what they do that makes you angry or upset toward then.
Here are some “self-talk” thoughts I teach people in my anger management classes to teach themselves to be less angry at whatever their partner does. These changes in thought patterns have helped many hundreds of partners be less angry toward their partner- even if their partners doesn’t change their behavior.
Change Angry Thoughts to 4 Corrective Thoughts
Angry Thought #1- My partner should think like I do. If they don’t, its my duty to work on them until they do think like me- or at least admit they are wrong.
Corrective thought #1: My partner and I don’t have to think alike: to get along we just have to be tolerant of how the other one thinks.
Angry Thought #2-My partner does things I consider stupid or wrong. Because they are stupid or wrong, they shouldn’t do these things.
Corrective thought #2: Within limits, they have a right to do what they want to- but I also have a right not to want to live with a person who does those things and I will communicate that to them calmly.
Angry Thought #3- I know I am right about the issue we often fight about.
Corrective thought #3: I am not 100% right nor are they 100% wrong on any matter of dispute. Fact is, usually “the truth” is in the middle. In marriage, there is more than one “truth” so it is possible you are both “right” but you are each looking at the conflict or issue from a different point of view.
Angry Thought #4– Things should go my way- because I deserve it and because I want it that way.
Corrective thought #4: I am not the center of the universe, or even the center of our relationship. It is irrational to think that things MUST go my way- even though I would like them to. Rather than getting angry, I need to work on my skill of accepting what is instead of what I self-centeredly want it to be. I also need to practice thinking in terms of “we” instead of “me.”
Download a FREE PDF file called “Sharing Things as a Couple Worksheet” that will help you develop the techniques discussed in this article.