The first three levels of the Sound Relationship House – Build Love Maps, Share Fondness and Admiration, and Turn Towards Instead of Away – serve as the foundation for The Positive Perspective. I am convinced this is the most important element of a new relationship’s architecture.

One of my clients isn’t so sure.

She refers to the Positive Perspective with a fair bit of contempt. (Her first mistake.) She calls it the Music Man Effect. In Meredith Willson’s The Music Man, a con-artist named Harold Hill arrives in River City, Iowa promising to rid the town of all its ills. The town is in Trouble with a capital “T.” The problem, according to Harold, is both immediate and severe.

Well, either you’re closing your eyes
To a situation you do now wish to acknowledge
Or you are not aware of the caliber of disaster indicated
By the presence of a pool table in your community.

The pool table, you see, is the gateway to the delinquency, degradation and “Mass-staria!” that is sure to corrupt River City’s youth. The solution is simple: A boy’s band. Harold will create a boy’s band by selling instruments to the boys and teaching them to be a part of something positive. But the instruments never arrive. (This is pretty typical behavior for instruments sold by con-artists.) Harold insists that you can learn without instruments using what he calls the “Think System” in which, “you don’t have to bother with the notes.” If the children just think the right thoughts hard enough, it’ll all work out in the end.

My skeptical client doesn’t buy it. It’s a nice idea, she says, but thinking positive thoughts isn’t enough to get you or your relationship out of trouble. Indeed, it’s not enough, but it is essential. Whether your relationship is in the positive or negative determines a lot of things. It determines how conflict discussions will go. It determines how successful repair attempts will be. It even serves as the basis for romance, passion, and good sex. It does not mean that you won’t have trouble. It simply sets the tone for how you will manage that trouble together.

You can keep an eye on your capacity for the Positive Perspective by considering the notion of your Emotional Bank Account. Couples who are in stable, happy relationships have a ratio of positive to negative interactions of 5:1, even while in the midst of conflict. In banking terms, imagine that a negative interaction is equal to withdrawing a nickel, but a positive interaction (i.e. a deposit) is only worth a penny. That means that in order to keep your Emotional Bank Account in the black, you have to put a lot more pennies to balance out the negative withdrawals.

Dr. Gottman calls this “small things often.” The theory is that small, intentional, consistent efforts over time will profoundly transform the trajectory of your relationships. And just like actual banking, it makes the most sense to start early. “Small” is easy. An affirming nod. A quick shoulder rub. A well timed question. “Intentional” and “consistent” are the things that require…well, intentionality and consistency. Start crafting your plan today. What will your pennies look like?

If you want to ensure that your relationship stays in the black, you have to protect your investment with daily attention. Consider how you start and end every day. Can you create a ritual that reinforces the positive aspects of your relationship? Can you nurture daily affection with a six-second kiss or a prolonged hug? Can you make sure to compliment or thank your partner in a new way? The answer is yes. The failure to do these things can create the kind of skepticism and contempt that leads to Trouble (yes, with a capital “T”).

But what if you’re withdrawing too many nickels? If you are aware that your relationship is being interpreted through a negative filter, it likely means that there’s something awry in the first three levels. Go back and work on Love Maps. Share some appreciation for one another. Look for opportunities to turn toward bids. This is a lifelong effort. The slow and steady work of a relationship.

I don’t want to spoil it for you, but it all does work out in the end of The Music Man. The Think System prepared the boys in the band to play their instruments. They weren’t very good, but they were good enough to bring joy and hope and harmony to River City. And despite what my client thinks, there’s no reason committing to a positive frame of mind won’t work for you in your relationship as well.

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The Positive Perspective
Zach Brittle, LMHC

Zach is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Certified Gottman Therapist in Seattle, WA specializing in couples therapy. You can learn more about Zach and inquire about availability at www.zachbrittle.com. 

  • Great article. An aspect challenging the Positive perspective is that our brains feel negative events, feedback or moments three times stronger than positive ones. I think by acknowledging this one can utilize the Positive perspective much better.

    It is very easy to hear and see only the negatives, there are many positives that one receives from partner, but they are easily ruled out as we are many times poor at receiving good feedback.