Module 3 – Step 4 & 5
So far we’ve covered relaxing, staying present, and cultivating inner silence. All of those are pieces in this week’s topic of choice: positivity. Those previous three steps all make it far easier to gain and maintain a positive outlook and way of relating to your partner.
Why is positivity so important? One, it sets the tone for whether your conversation will succeed or fail. And two, it sets the tone for your entire relationship. As this module points out, negativity interferes with your ability to deeply listen and to express yourself clearly. It puts up a barrier between you and your partner. Negativity puts both of you on the defensive.
I’ve noticed that a lot both in the past and more recently. I unfortunately struggle with pessimism, and whenever I let it get the best of me, all my relationships suffer. When my negative thoughts run away with me, I turn my focus inward on my fear rather than outward to listen and understand the people in my life. Luckily, this module has some tips to help you push negative thoughts, emotions, and behaviors aside. It won’t be instantaneous – no good change ever is – but it will help you journey toward a more positive mindset.
First and foremost, your mindset before you enter a conversation is crucial. A few posts back I mentioned this, but here we’ll explore it in a little more detail. You need to enter the conversation in as positive a mindset as possible. Mentally rehearsing how you think the conversation will go is a good test for how negatively or positively you’re feeling. I need to emphasize that this rehearsal is to clarify your own feelings about the upcoming conversation, not to predict it.
No matter how well we’ve known someone, we can always be surprised. And moreover, it’s important to give our partner the benefit of the doubt. So if you mentally rehearse the conversation and find you expect it to go poorly, try to reschedule. And be open with your partner about why. I say something like, “Hey, can we have this conversation another time? I’m not in a good head-space for it right now.” (You don’t have to phrase it as a question!) It’s quick, easy, and communicates my mood without implying it’s my partner’s fault. Keeping each other in the loop about where you are emotionally is crucial to fostering emotional intimacy and trust even when one or both of you isn’t swimming in positive feelings.
But shouldn’t we express ourselves fully with our partner, whether positive or negative? Well, there’s a big difference between expressing what we’re feeling and taking out our feelings on our partner. That’s a lesson I’m still learning now, and I expect I’ll still be working on that a decade from now. A partner is your teammate, not your emotional punching bag. A partnership is about growing better together, not tearing each other down because you’re feeling negative thoughts or emotions. That’s what this emphasis on a positive mindset comes down to – helping both of you grow individually and together as a couple.
When you cultivate a positive mindset, it becomes so much easier to communicate in a positive way, like we talked about back in Module 2. For me, it became a thousand times easier to take a step back from my own reaction in favor or trying to understand my partner’s point of view. When I remember to place myself in a relaxed, open state of mind before a conversation, I’m more patient, more willing to listen during topics I’d normally be buried in my own emotions for. It’s easier to give my partner the benefit of the doubt instead of jump to conclusions.
And conversely, if my partner is having a difficult time, I can support them better. When I focus on what I love about them and the positive things in our relationship, I have more patience to listen without interjecting my own experiences, to grab their favorite snack or make them a meal without asking them to do the dishes, to clean their bathroom because they’re clearly tired and it needs to be done.
I struggle with selfishness and centering conversations around me, but keeping a positive mindset as best I can helps me to step outside of myself and be a better partner, better friend, better coworker, better daughter.
Tip: Make a list of the positives.
This is actually similar to Step 5: Recall a happy memory. Making a list invites you to call up many happy memories, which works best for me. I do this when I’m particularly struggling with being positive about my relationship. I draw a line dividing a paper in half and write everything good about my partner and our relationship I can think of. I try to focus not on how my partner makes me feel, but about his qualities that exist independently of benefitting me personally. For example, I’ll write “works to understand various points of view” instead of “works to understand my point of view.” The goal is to appreciate my partner as a person, not as a person in relation to me.
Now I tend to think of negative things as well. That’s what the other half of the paper is for. Write down negatives if you need to, and when you’re done with the list tear it off. Crumple it in a ball and throw it away, or shred it. If there’s something on that list of negatives really bothering you, flip the positive half over, write your concern on the back, and note three positive things to include in the conversation when you want to talk about your concern. Every positive may not make it into the conversation at first, or they may come at the tail end, but it can be so helpful to have them present in your mind. It helps me remember who I’m talking to.
My partner. My teammate. Someone I love.
When both of you nurture that positive mindset, your love will grow in ways you never imagined.