Behavioral Psychology

Focus On The Good in Your Relationship

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It’s a sad reality that in our romantic relationships many of us have no problem harping on what we don’t like yet rarely take the time to praise our partners for what we do like. The problem is that we expect things to be good without having to do anything to make them good. The only time we really notice and comment on the situation is when the level of ‘goodness’ has dipped below the baseline.

A lot of counselors use all kinds of car analogies to talk about relationships. Obviously people aren’t cars, but in the context of this article an idea I was thinking about that I like is if you want to make sure your car always runs well you don’t wait until something starts malfunctioning and then proceed to fix it. You stay on top of the situation, getting oil changes at regular intervals, taking really good care of your car all the time, and the outcome is that things pretty much always run smoothly.

Whether you are criticizing or praising, you might be so caught up in the moment that you lose sight of the fact that the only reason to do either of these things is to affect future behaviors. Otherwise your comments are pointless and you’re really just spinning your wheels. So the question you’ve got to ask yourself is which strategy is going to make you and your partner happier and healthier in the short-term and the long-term?

Commenting on what you do like is just as likely to make a behavior occur in the future as is criticizing what you don’t like. Both are reinforcements, the first a positive reinforcement, meaning it’s something the subject is motivated to receive again, and the second a negative reinforcement, meaning it’s something the subject is motivated to avoid receiving again. It feels a lot better to use positive reinforcement. You’re surrounded with good vibes and love, and everybody appreciates hearing when they’re doing a good job.

The key is to train yourself to focus on the good in your relationship and to not be stingy about commenting on this good all the time. Let your partner know about the personality traits and behaviors you appreciate, and say so in the moment when you see these traits and behaviors. If it feels awkward to you at first this is all the more reason to keep doing it, because it obviously shows you haven’t been doing it nearly enough. If you want to see yourself, your partner, and your relationship bloom stop wasting your precious energy criticizing what you don’t like and use it to talk about all the things you do like. The things you don’t like will go away on their own because there will cease to be any room for them.