University of Oregon emeritus psychologist Robert Weiss coined the term “Negative Sentiment Override” (NSO) for the emergence of troubling patterns in which trust has been broken in relationships. Rose-colored lenses are shattered and replaced with the persistent and deeply frustrating feeling of being trapped with your partner in an endless void. Delightful! In his research, Dr. Gottman has found that the concept of the Three Boxes is deeply related to the ebb and flow of these perceptions (in theoretical terms, essentially the fluctuating idealization and devaluation of our relationships with our partners). What we called the “valley of darkness” in the Nasty Box becomes an enormous problem as Negative Sentiment Override kicks in and positive feelings felt between partners are decreased from their honeymoon peak. With both these phenomena in place, partners are left trying to push a relationship up a mountain.
Though we all experience difficulties in our relationships (because we are human, and because we are complicated, and because issues of trust are often incredibly difficult to deal with), Dr. Gottman does not believe that all problems can be solved or that all relationships can be healthily maintained! With the understanding he has gathered from over 35 years of research, he appreciates the realities of human relationships, but his books offer great hope. Though they do not imply that our current relationships may be made into our idealized images of perfection, he offers a vast number of tools that we can use to better approach the difficulties we encounter. In discussing trust and beliefs couples form about each other in his upcoming book What Makes Love Last?, he offers the following exercise, allowing couples to determine whether or not they are experiencing Negative Sentiment Override. Take this quiz and find out!
Note: These quizzes are intended to be psychoeducational. If you would like a full evaluation of your relationship, you can ask your therapist to invite you to complete the Gottman Relationship Checkup. If you’re not currently seeing a therapist, you can find one in your area on the Gottman Referral Network.
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