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What is Negative Sentiment Override? And How Can It Affect My Relationship?

by | Oct 8, 2020

Simply put, negative sentiment override is when you or your partner are consistently seeing the negative side of your problems or each other, despite any facts or evidence to the contrary.  It happens in relationships when your negative attitudes are overriding positive attitudes that would normally be made about the other.

Still not sure? The Gottman Institute suggests asking yourself whether you have a chip on your shoulder about your partner.  In the moment, do you dismiss positive or neutral statements and see them as negative?  Do you go looking for sleights and are ready to be on the defensive? Do you physiologically get flooded by your partner easily?  These are all tell tell signs you may be in negative sentiment override.

Some people can get stuck in a negative state of mind. Others are naturally wired to see the glass as half-empty, so to speak.  We all have bad days from time to time, but if you have a string of bad days or suffer through a traumatic event, painful feelings can be prolonged.  The first step in combatting negative sentiment override is to have an awareness and understanding of what it is and if it is affecting you and your relationship.

Common Signs & Responses of Someone in Negative Sentiment Override:

  • Shut down communication
  • Not listening
  • Not trying
  • Reeling off negative statements
  • Arguing points of difference
  • Using sarcasm
  • Defensiveness
  • Angry outbursts
  • Substance abuse
  • Siding with others
  • Storming out
  • Destructive behaviors
  • Being Abrupt / Blunt
  • Quick to jump to conclusions
  • Stonewalling
  • Avoidance
  • Numbness and apathy
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Denial

Many people have a strong desire to return to normal, to feel better and get over the pain or negativity they are feeling in their relationship. During this emotional time, it’s natural to feel a range of emotions, depending on the situation.  And over time most of us are able to return to a state of feeling normal or feeling positive feelings about our partner again and life can go on.  But some people get stuck and honestly wonder if they will ever feel positive about their partner again.

Negative sentiment override most likely doesn’t occur overnight.  Negative feelings toward your partner can creep up on you as days, months, and years go by. Your beliefs about your partner, and your feelings toward your partner are shaped by events and memories over time.  This may be why couples, on average, are six years late to start couples counseling.  The slow build of negative sentiment is sometimes so gradual, it’s hard to even realize it’s happening.

If your relationship is suffering from stress, unresolved issues, and emotional disconnection for a prolonged period of time; your desire to get back to a normal, healthy state of positive feelings for your partner may seem daunting.  But returning to a positive state of mind gives the relationship a chance to flourish once again.

The Gottman Institute recommends three proven strategies to break free from negative sentiment override. Each strategy has challenges, which is why working with a trained therapist to achieve breakthroughs is so important for you to get the shift toward a healthy relationship.

1. Be Open to Influence From Your Partner

Be open to accepting their word and opinion. Notice whether you are going to automatically shut down whatever they have to say.  Be aware if you are feeling rigid, stubborn, or unrelenting.  Begin to understand how they are feeling and try to incorporate their view into yours.  See the situation from their point of view, and ask yourself, “how can I see this issue from a different perspective?”  If you’re feeling bold and up to the task, ask yourself, “how could I be wrong here and what can I learn?”  Notice your heart begin to soften as you start opening up to your partner’s influence.

2. Increase Fondness and Admiration

Learn something new about your partner. Discuss what you like about them, how you appreciate them and what you are grateful for.  Also ask yourself how they are adding to your life.  What positive emotions come to mind?  This concept is often where a therapist can really help. Even if you’ve been married for 30+ years, you can still learn about your partner.  Be curious.  Ask great questions.  Have the desire to understand them better.

3. Turn Toward Instead of Away

Keep your eyes peeled for what Gottman refers to as bids of connection by your partner (they can sometimes be hard to spot).  If your partner says hello, say hello back.  If they take your hand, allow them.  Ig they ask you a question, don’t dismiss them, but answer them and even ask a question back to them.  The key to this is to respond positively and follow through with moments of connection.  Remember that these often come in the form of small gestures that you have to practice noticing and then accepting, rather than shutting down.

Beware it may take time, and sometimes old habits die hard. That is – keep trying and keep chipping away to create new healthy habits. With persistence, you can create an environment where positive sentiment can flourish consistently.  Again, if this concept seems impossible, have hope and ask for help.

About Kristi | View Profile
Kristi Schwegman is a psychotherapist specializing in helping couples develop healthy relationships, whether dating, engaged, or married. She also draws from her Christian-based approach to lead individuals in becoming aware of the limiting beliefs that can get them stuck.
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