By: Cristina Trette, MA, LMFT
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. We our on our best behavior and interact with delight. 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?
Yes and no.
I am all for couples being themselves and showing up authentically. Yet if your authentic self frequently engages in criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling, (John Gottman's well-researched predictors of divorce) then you have some work to do.
Many couples have a difficult time accessing relationship basics, such as mutual respect, kindness, empathy, and compassion, when feeling angry. Most couples, when arguing, have moved into a state of fight or flight and the sympathetic nervous system takes over. When we are in this state of dysregulation, we lose access to our communication skills. That is, until we do the inner work.
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 am a Marriage and Family Therapist but I have my rocky moments too. Having acceptance of our weak spots is important. But this does not get us off the hook for striving to do better if our shortcomings hurt other people. And let me be clear, if you put down, snub, ignore, shut down, or criticize your partner you are hurting them.
Most of us, probably, could do better. We could all benefit from ongoing personal and relationship growth and become the highest version of ourselves particularly with the person we are in a romantic relationship or marriage with.
Many years ago, my partner and I had been stuck in a perpetual state of tension with one another. In the midst of all that negativity, we decided to take part in a “Zero Negativity Pledge”.
The inspiration for the pledge arose from the Relationships First program. 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, my partner and I decided to give the pledge a whirl. We 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 happened in our relationship after taking the pledge.
Our interactions and conversations became more meaningful. There was less chit chat and more depth. Our experience of connection and love went through the roof. I began asking for what I needed in and want in a direct and caring manner. I have extended the pledge to how I interact with my kids as well.
I never give my clients an assignment or suggest a path that I have not been down myself. Many couples treat other people, including strangers, better than they treat one another. If you are noticing that your relationship is struggling. Or, if you feel that your relationship is good but it could use a boost, I highly encourage you and your partner to give the pledge a whirl.
Hello, I am Cristina Trette. I help couples enhance communication, connection, and chemistry. I am a Couples Therapist and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. If you try the pledge, I would love to hear how it goes for you in the comments box below.
Hello! I am Cristina Trette. I am a Couples Therapist, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, and Certified in Perinatal Mental Health. I write on all things related to relationships, parenthood, and connection.