“If you think I need to follow that 80% positive to 20% negative thing you wrote about last week, I’m going to need a lot of duct tape for my mouth!”
I knew he was not exaggerating, because I’d been seeing them, for about 3 or 4 months. Little did I know one comment in a blog would get his attention on things I had been trying to share with him for a long time.
Perhaps the comment in my blog last week got your attention too. In case you missed it here is what I said…
Early research is showing that to achieve richness in an intimate relationship, there must be at least 80% positive interactions and less than 20% negative interactions.
The same is true in all other relationships, in business, and in every aspect of our lives.
For you and your brain to be in “peak performance” or “peak presence” taking you toward your best possible life, you must be sure that every hour of negative input (arguing, headline news, movies that create negative feelings such as fear, anger, or terror) and output … is balanced by five hours of positive input (inspiring conversation, upbeat music, motivational reading, etc.) or output.
This is so true. Not just about negative comments, body language, or tones with one another or about the marriage … but any negativity, even if it has nothing directly to do with your partner or your relationship.
Just a couple of weeks ago, he had come in demanding that I make his wife listen to him while he poured out his fears and negative predictions about the economy of our country.
“We are on an economic bubble, and we are getting ready to have a correction! And it’s going to crash on us. People who don’t have all of their debt paid off are going to be goners. We need to take some action quickly!”
I hear comments equally as negative daily about marriage, partners, jobs, the state of the world, or of terrible drivers. Or, what they saw on the news that upset them terribly, or just a boat load of other negative comments regularly.
When I get new interns, or coaches who have been certified through my program, one of the questions they often ask is: “You sit and listen to negativity all day long. How do you balance that out at the end of the day with 80% positive?”
The response is very similar to the five items listed below.
Although this week I am addressing marriages specifically, the same concepts hold true with your relationships with your little children, your adult children, your extended family, coworkers, etc.
You simply must do whatever it takes to keep the ratio to 80% positive (or greater) and 20% negative (or less) in order to have rich, fulfilling relationships! The truth is … deep down, all of us wants that!
It’s not always easy because our culture leans toward a negative bent.
Following these five things will multiply positivity in your life, in your marriage, in your family, in your friendships and in your business!
1. EXPRESSED GRATITUDE REGULARLY.
Not only does expressing gratitude help wipe out negativity, but it appears that just three minutes of gratitude wipes out a huge chunk of it!
We know from neuroscience, that when we are exposed to negativity, or have feelings such as fear, frustration, anger, or stress… That our heart waves and our brain waves are out of sync. It creates mental, emotional, relational and/or spiritual distress at some level.
However, just three minutes of gratitude brings the heart and brain waves back into sync and releases our ‘feel good’ hormones.
These hormones are to negativity as a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser Sponge is to spots on your wall!
Expressing gratitude out loud even has a greater impact. Not only does it multiply those feel-good hormones that are released when you say it aloud …
BUT, it also creates those SAME good hormones in the person that you are expressing it to!
As a matter fact, it does the same in anyone who’s WITNESSING the expressed gratitude.
That’s why I often talk about a gratitude revolution. It could literally become “viral” in a GREAT way!
When clients tell me that their spouses are so negative, I encourage them to express sincere gratitude aloud as often as possible.
As a matter of fact, the way that the wife got the husband I mentioned above to come for an appointment was that she began expressing gratitude to him regularly. He told her that he thought that the counseling was helping her because he felt better.
Little did he know that before arriving in my office…that I would share with him that it was ‘actually’ her gratitude being expressed that had washed over some of the negativity that he was habitually pouring out.
At times, when things get overly negative in my office from a client spewing trauma, abuse, or horrible things about their spouse… I will say something like, “I am so grateful that you trust me enough to share these things with me.”
It in no way minimizes what they are saying, but at the same time it gives me a breath of fresh air while the ‘feel good hormones’ are pouring out! And it normally soothes them as well!
It is simply not that hard. The more you express gratitude aloud, the less negative there will be and the more your percentage of positivity will rise!
Here’s my challenge to you.
Get in the habit of sharing 5 to 6 gratitude’s daily with your spouse (or in any other relationship) and watch the positivity rise and inspire you and everything and everyone around you…it works and it’s free!
2. SET YOUR RETICULAR ACTIVATING SYSTEM (RAS) DAILY.
Your reticulate activating system is about the size of a 2” pencil in the base of your brain. It is equivalent to your search engine on your computer.
Whether you use Safari, Yahoo, Google, or some other search engine, you can type in what you would like to see, and it pulls up pages and pages and pages of what you’re looking for.
Our RAS is/does the same thing for us.
You type in or enter what you want your RAS to search for with the thoughts and the words you speak.
If you wake up in the morning and your first thought is, “I wonder how grouchy he/she is going to be today,” your RAS will oblige you by finding pages and pages of the things that look like “grouchy.”
If you’d like a ratio of 80% positivity/20% negativity in your relationship, or better yet, 90% positivity and 10% negativity…You must set your RAS daily to search for positive things. Preferably first thing in the morning.
You can set your RAS for positivity by simply waking up every morning, and saying something incredibly positive about your spouse. It’s even more powerful if you say it out loud.
Here are some of the suggestions I gave my client who thought he needed duct tape for his mouth.
Wake up and focus on one of these thoughts, or better yet, say them out loud:
- I wonder how much fun we can have today?
- I think I will fix her coffee just to see her smile.
- I know how hard she works to make sure the day starts off great for me and our children…
He nodded thoughtfully and added his own suggestion: “How about ‘it’s going to be a hot time in the old town tonight’?”
We all 3 chuckled!
Here’s the reason, it’s not enough to stop your negative thoughts.
Because if you do not set or reset your RAS for noticing and showing you positive things, it will default to negative time after time after time.
If you fail to set it for positive things, it will not show you any of the positive things she may do. Like being very nice, sweet, and doing loving things.
If you’re RAS is not set for the positive, even if he/she delivers love in a powerful way, it will ‘not register’ on your RAS. And it will go unnoticed.
Whether it’s your boss, your spouse, your frustrating teenager, or a nosy neighbor… Set your Reticular Activating System to look for positive things.
Might negative things still happen? Perhaps. But they will not register, or you will hardly notice them. The positives will register in gold.
Set your RAS for positive things today and you will see a major difference in the first 24 hours!
3. KNOW YOUR OUTCOME BEFORE YOU EXPRESS ANYTHING NEGATIVE.
One of the key things we should all adopt as a personal policy is knowing our desired outcome before we begin making negative comments, sharing negative moods, or doing anything other than something that is a positive planning or uplifting.
Sadly to say, because of how we’ve been programmed, most of us feel an inherent need to share the negative. And 100% of the time it’s rain on someone’s parade-including your own!
Think about that…It’s contagious!
When we dump our negatives, whether it’s an angry little comment, talking about our economy in a negative way, or just making negative comments under your breath…It impacts everyone within your reach. Whether they are physically or virtually present.
We talk about the global pandemic (and I believe that the virus is definitely a problem) but I believe that all of the negativity being blurted ongoing on a daily basis has an even greater global impact.
(Please spare me the emails and messages about not taking Covid seriously. I’m taking it very seriously and doing my part to prevent the spread. I am also supporting families from a distance by sending food and handling other things that I can drop off on their doorstep safely!)
There are many books being written and blogs galore, along with a plethora of YouTube shows promoting “zero negativity.“
I am one who has taken this on as a personal challenge and have done so for years.
You must take this seriously if you desire a rich, fulfilling relationships!
Every moment that you spew your negativity, whether in writing, body language, words, or on social media…You are infecting everyone around you when you put your negativity mask on.
Most importantly…you’re infecting your marriage with something that will eventually kill and undermine all love and respect.
Why do we spew negativity?
- Learned behavior (many families connect by “talking about” other family members, the stupid thing the preacher said in his sermon, how much Aunt Sally is drinking, etc.)
- It’s a habit
- The negativity is bothering us and we’d like to dump it somewhere
- To make ourselves look educated
- Because we are unaware of the damage being done
- You will see the learned behavior for what it is and stop it!
- You will break the habit
- You will take care of and do whatever it takes to stop ingesting the negativity so that there is not any need to spew it
- You will find another way to show how very smart you truly are without spewing negativity
- But I believe that most of you do it because (until this moment) you were unaware of the damage you were doing
My goal this week is to make you aware, to make your life richer because you are aware, and to save your relationships.
Your marriage, your relationship with your children, your relationship with coworkers and extended family.
Are there times we need to speak about negative things? Of course!
But we can do so without interrupting the 80% positivity and 20% negativity proportion by knowing our desired outcome before we open our mouths and inform our face that we are drowning in negativity.
For example, with the couple in my office, I did an exercise to help the husband with this.
Apparently, most evenings at dinner, the kids would all roll their eyes as he went off on his rant about the economy and how the sky is falling. I had already heard that “sky is falling” lament, so I chose that to try something different.
I asked him if he would be willing to consider his desired outcome with me before we began the conversation. At first he seem stumped.
So, I began asking him questions like:
- Is it your job, your investments, your 401(k) that worry you? He shook his head as if that did not hit the mark.
- Then I asked if he thought we were going to experience something like the great depression again? Once again he shook his head negatively.
- Then I asked: “How do you think the state of our economy could affect you, your marriage, or your children’s future?”
At that, he leaned forward with his elbows on his knees, and his head in his hands. After a moment, he looked up and appeared shaken a bit.
“Well … we have some money set aside for their educations, but if things go down the way that it appears, we will not be able to fund them. And who knows? I may not be able to put a roof over their heads at some point.”
My first statement was one of reflection and empathy. But after a pause, I asked him to look right at me. I said to him with great compassion, “Your concerns are so valid, but this is too heavy for your children to carry. Although you were talking about it in global terms at the dinner table, I assure you that they are taking on your fear.”
He immediately teared up, and apparently his wife knew something I did not know, because she took his hand and they both looked down.
I waited, and finally she looked up and said:
“Our son’s pediatrician diagnosed him with asthma this week. She said that asthma was often a physiological response to overwhelming fear in a child.”
After another moment of silence, he said regretfully, “I had no idea I was causing it.”
I asked him what damage he thought he was bringing to his marriage? He responded: “A lot. But trust me I had no idea!”
After another moment, he said: “I guess I really do need that duct tape after all!”
I smiled and then said, “Are you ready to talk about how to know your desired income/outcome and initiate this conversation very differently?”
With great determination he responded: “Oh yes! You’ve got my attention now!”
I instructed him:
- First of all, this conversation should be with your wife and away from your children.
- You should pull her aside and tell her that you have some concerns that he would like for her to walk through with you.
- Instead of spewing, tell her that you have some concerns and some fears, and ask her if she would be willing to help you talk through them.
- Then in a very calm and succinct manner to address the concerns.
He did exactly as I instructed, and it was beautiful to see them come together as a team.
Using this process makes it a team working together for a solution, instead of upsetting the 80% positivity and 20% negativity balance.
As a matter of fact, it might even move the needle up to 85% positivity if done in a calm and caring conversation as a team.
What about you?
- Are you willing to begin to know your desired outcome before expressing negativity?
- Are you willing to be accountable for and take responsibility for the damage it has done when you have blurted negativity out otherwise?
- Are you willing to commit to doing it differently?
As I said earlier, I believe you did not know how your negativity has and is eroding the very foundation of love and respect in your marriage, as well and other relationships.
I believe you will do it differently from this moment forward.
4. SHARE ANY AND ALL NEGATIVE COMMENTS ABOUT YOUR PARTNER OR YOUR MARRIAGE BY APPOINTMENT ONLY.
This is true for relationships that are in a rough spot, or have been in a rough spot for a long time. Perhaps negativity is so prevalent that you both expect negativity.
Often, both partners’ Reticular Activation Systems are set for negativity.
In this situation, gratitude’s are rare, if ever thought or spoken.
But if instead of just spewing criticisms, negative comments, or all of the eye rolling and heavy sighs … We learn to ask for an appointment, the expectation for negativity fades away.
(Yes, I’m talking about an appointment, just like you’d schedule with any coach, teacher, client, boss etc. you set a time and date like any appointment with your partner.)
Asking for an appointment does two things.
- It allows your partner to prepare themselves with hopefully an open mind and an open heart.
- It also requires the spouse who has something to share to get themselves in a place of relationship maturity and emotional maturity before the appointment.
What is relationship maturity and emotional maturity?
- Shows and expresses love, even in the midst of challenges
- Boards a healing train before addressing issues
- Makes positive, specific behavior-change requests to solve issues
- Invests in their relationship by delivering multiple gestures of love daily
- Requests an appointment for time to share when feeling wounded, and shares those feelings without bashing
- Carefully tends to the partner’s wounds as a healing partner
- Speaks about concerns or challenges with the partner to a therapist, coach, mentor ONLY (not family and friends)
- Ongoing focus on how to become a better partner and enhance the relationship
- Always thinks the best of their partner, seeking to see the great things in them
- Listens to, empathizes with and validates their partner’s feelings
- Makes sacrifices for the partner and the relationship joyfully and willingly, without need to point it out to the partner
- Takes care of self (but not to the point of being selfish) in order to present their best to the relationship
- Keeps promises and communicates clearly and punctually if anything interrupts the promise made
- Communicates changes in plans promptly, and considers partner’s feelings
- Expresses wants/needs clearly (never leaving the partner to mind-reading
- Accesses and feels emotions
- Resists stuffing or ignoring emotions
- Examines emotions (where they came from)
- Manages them in a mature way
- Deals with emotions appropriately
- Makes healthy decisions about how to (or whether to) express emotions
- Expresses emotions in a healthy way
- Notes the impact of their emotions on others
- Maintains values of who they want to be, regardless of emotions
These are appointments not just a “blast one another” session.
(If you wanted a teacher, coach, client, a boss to really hear you and your heart, you’d do all you needed to in changing your attitude, to be sure you’d be heard and understood…so how much more then should we do for our life partner.)
Here is the basic format for these appointments:
The person who asked for the appointment begins as the sharing partner, and the partner listens not just for words, but also for emotions. And potentially insight into any old or new wounds.
The partner listening with their heart reflects every few moments. Not giving interpretations or their thoughts but reflecting in summary style what they heard in content and in emotion. Then they ask the partner if they got it right, followed by asking if there is more. This process continues until the sharing partner says there is no more.
The listening partner validates, starting with the stem sentence: “it makes sense to me that…” Then they fill in the rest of the sentence with an insight they gained in listening with their heart.
Finally, the listening partner guesses how the sharing partner could be feeling beginning with this stem: “After listening to you, I can imagine you must be feeling…”
Try to fill in the blank with three feelings you guess they could be feeling. And if you’re sharing an honest guess, it truly is OK if you’re incorrect.
It is very healing to hear that someone is trying to walk a mile in your shoes by guessing what you must be feeling.
If you are incorrect, they can correct you, and you will learn more about who they really are and how they feel.
5. They each come to the table with at least three positive, specific, behavior change requests.
First, the person who asked for the appointment makes three positive specific behavior change request that could potentially resolve the issue or challenge.
The listening partner grants at least one, and hopefully all three.
Then if the listening partner needs an opportunity to share their feelings and perspective, they ask for an appointment. Which should be granted as soon as possible after a break of at least 15 minutes.
If there’s no need for them to share, they go straight to making their positive, specific behavior change requests.
I find that quite often with six requests on the table, there are great solutions at hand!
Regardless of who is the negative person in the relationship, or perhaps you both are, are you willing to be the one to step up to the high road and stop all spontaneous spewing about your partner and your relationship?
I believe you are! I believe you know that failure to do so is now intentional destruction to the love and respect in the relationship.
I suggest to couples that they ask for an appointment weekly to practice in moments that they don’t have that much negativity to share.
So in that moment where you’re tempted to say things like:
- You never keep your word
- This marriage sucks
- I’m sick and tired of you
You will ask for an appointment instead!
You have no idea what a difference this can and will make in your marriage, and other relationships too!
No negativity without an appointment!
Yes, my client was a bit overwhelmed when he heard that, so he asked for a standing appointment with his wife.
(To which I said NOT! That would be setting your RAS up to always be searching for the negative!)
5. CREATE RECREATION DAILY.
One of the things we know about recreation is it comes from a Latin root “recraetio” which means “the cure of some illness or condition of hardness.” … Which literally means re-creating things to their original state.
It’s not uncommon that we get busy with children, jobs, chores, community service, etc. and stop creating recreation together.
I defined recreation as:
- Some things you can both enjoy
- Something that promotes eye contact
- Some thing that you both focus on without distractions (no cell phones, etc.)
- Something that requires energy
- Something that lasts at least 5 to 10 minutes
Yes I know… It doesn’t include watching television, or spending time on your cell phone while your spouse is trying to connect with you.
You may say, I have no idea what to do?
- Play Scrabble
- Take a dance lesson
- Spend $10 on a table top ping-pong set and play ping-pong
- Play charades
- Go for a walk, hold hands, and have pleasant conversation making eye contact as often as possible
It also helps to remember what activities you did in the beginning of your relationship.
Reach back into your own archives of “recreation.”
And NO! You are not TOO OLD, too negative or too anything else to do this!
Remember, recreation actually re-creates what once was.
Not only that, but it obliterates a truckload of negativity.
I had the couple in my office stand up facing one another, toe to toe. I had them cross their arms and grab the other’s wrists with their hands.
Yes, you guessed it! I had them play a moment of
“Motorboat, motorboat …go so slow.
Motorboat, motorboat …go so fast.
Motorboat, motorboat …step on the gas!
Motorboat, motorboat …see who can last!
A silly little game?
Yes! But they left hand-in-hand with big smiles on their faces. I told them that every time negativity came up, their assignment was to play motorboat!
If a silly little game like motorboat can reset the negativity to less than 20% and the positivity to 80% or greater…Is it worth it?
Of course it is!
We can have rich relationships. We can have fulfilling relationships.
But we cannot spontaneously spew negativity and have either one.
You can do this!
Research says your health will be better, you’ll live longer, your fulfillment will increase, and research has even correlated it to financial gain or increase!
I truly want you to have amazing relationships.
That’s why I’m sharing this with you this week.
I hope you will join me in the challenge of keeping your life and your relationships at 20% negativity or less, and 80% or greater positivity.
Then open your arms wide with an expectation of the awesome benefits that will flood you!