At the start of a relationship, most couples show up with their best self forward. During the infatuation phase, we rarely see flaws in our partner. Happy brain chemical release has us buzzing around in a minor state of bliss for the first one to two years of being in a new relationship.
Over time, a more realistic way and sustainable way of being together emerges, complete with bad days and bad moods.
This is healthy and normal. Who doesn’t want a relationship where pretense dissolves and we can be real?
We want to be able to tell it like it is! Home is where we can let it all hang out, right?
Well, that depends.
Many couples have a difficult time accessing relationship basics - such as kindness, respect, care, and compassion - when feeling angry. There are all sorts reasons for this. Most couples, when arguing, have moved into a true state of fight or flight and the autonomic nervous system turns on and takes over.
It can be difficult to slow this process down and stay attuned when in a disagreement. One of the overarching goals of couple therapy is to assist couples in exploring their feelings and maintain connection even during conflict.
I am no stranger to this. I have a tendency to keep small frustrations inside until the pressure builds to a point where it comes out messy. I am a Marriage and Family Therapist but I have my rocky moments too.
Having acceptance of our challenge points is important. But this does not get us off the hook for striving to be better after each and every setback.
Most of us, probably, could do better. We could all strive to develop our character, engage in growth work, and become the highest version of ourselves particularly with the person in life that we love the most.
Recently, Jeff and I were in a tough spot. We were stuck in bad days and bad moods. This is the subject of a different blog post! For now, all you need to know is that in the midst of all that negativity, Jeff and I decided to take part in a “Zero Negativity Pledge”.
The inspiration for the pledge came about after a colleague, Joe Whitcomb, LMFT, told me about the Safe Conversations program that he facilitates. I geek out on all things related to couples work and relationships, so I went to the Relationships First website to learn more. It was there that I came across the "Zero Negativity Pledge", that goes like this:
“We understand that “negativity” is any transaction that ruptures our connection – whether intentional or accidental.
We pledge to make our relationship a Zone of Zero Negativity for the next 30 days by omitting from all our interactions with each other any words, tones, or body language that could be experienced as a “put-down,” thus rupturing our connection.
We will make requests when we have a problem and ask for what we want in a way that does not put our partner down.
If we experience a rupture, we will send a gentle signal (bing, ouch, wow, oops!) immediately to communicate that we have experienced a “put-down,” and then use the repair process to restore safety and connecting
We pledge to give three appreciations daily to each other, no matter what!”.
In a casual way, Jeff and I decided to give the pledge a whirl.
Jeff and I have a loving and healthy relationship. We do not put each other down! Yet, much to my surprise sticking to this pledge was harder than I expected.
When I became committed to avoiding words, tones, or body language that could be interpreted as a put down, I started to realize the unconscious and subtle negative moves that were happening between us. They were infrequent, but alas, they had impact.
Something kind of amazing has happened in our relationship since taking the pledge.
Our interactions and conversations are more meaningful. There is less chit chat and more depth. Instead of keeping my frustrations in, I am pausing while becoming clear about what I need and want. I speak up in a way that is direct and respectful rather than holding on and unleashing at an inopportune time. I have extended the pledge to how I interact with my kids as well.
Our thirty days is up, but I continue the pledge.
If this sounds interesting to you, or you want to learn ways to improve your relationship, I am available for relationship and couple counseling. Feel free to reach out to me by phone or email.
Cristina Trette is an Associate Marriage and Family Therapist working in a private practice setting within The Soul of Yoga in Encinitas, California. Her practice is primarily focused on supporting busy couples and parents who want to improve marital and family relationships. You can learn more at www.cristinatrette.com.
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