My granddaughter, age 3, encountered a see-saw (teeter-totter) for the first time last weekend. She literally giggled out loud with how easily she could move up and down with her 2 year old brother (who was being carefully supported by their mother) on the other end. It was all fun and games…until grandpa sat down on the other end.
Of course I balanced my weight at first so we could each go up and down. But after a little bit, this grandpa got tired and needed a quick break. I sat. I was heavy. Seeing my granddaughter confused, stuck high on the other end of this tiny see-saw, made me think of the confused look many couples that see me often have:
“Wait, what happened?” “How did we get stuck?”
More importantly, “Can and how do we get down (unstuck)?”
Marriages begin with what renowned and leading marriage/couple psychologist Dr. John Gottman describes as a high, positive “set” point. It’s almost like the default position of the relationship. No matter what, most things are seen and experienced through this default lens. When the positive “set” point is high, couples are less likely to interpret things critically, or as a personal attack, or believe their relationship can ever be derailed. It takes far more negativity to harm your relationship than if your set point were lower.
Negative Override – when marriages gets heavy
But over time, anger, irritations, and resentment can build to the point that it’s like being a 3 year old on a See Saw with a tired grandfather. It can build for 2 years, or 5 years, or even 20 years, but if that balance tilts, and you slip from positive override into negative override, then everything begins to be interpreted more and more negatively. Marriage gets heavy. Words said in a neutral tone get interpreted negatively. You interpret your spouse and your relationship more and more negatively. You think you’ve married the wrong person – or a person who is completely different than who you initially married. You get stuck. It’s as if there is a boulder on the other end of the see-saw. It’s no fun and in fact toxic. And then you want to get off the See Saw and play with another toy.
Bottom line: Can I Save My Marriage?
I’ve been doing couples counseling for over 25 years now and what I can tell you is this: there is hope and there is good news for your relationship! I’ve helped thousands of couples re-learn how to live and think in a way that notices what is strong and desirable about their partner and marriage, to tilt the balance of their relationship back into their favor. Couples who have completely lost hope have been amazed at this approach. I’ll be honest: it’s not as easy or simple as it might sound. You’ll want an experienced guide or coach helping you figure out the steps and avenues to make it happen in your particular situation with your unique dynamic. But I’ve seen so many couples who thought they were done find renewed love, commitment, and a better relationship with each other. I believe it’s possible for you too!
Do yourself a favor: find a counselor or coach who works from a strengths-based, positive approach. Find a counselor or coach who is going to get in there with you and be active with you, someone who can help you work through some of the causes and pressure points of negativity in a way that relieves and revives your marriage instead of harming it, someone who is going to work with you to discern the steps and activities your specific relationships need to get itself back into positive override!