Research shows that couples who blissfully stay together for a lifetime have an uncanny ability to downplay the negative and highlight the positive in their mate and their relationship. When you are with your friends, do you talk up your mate's overall helpfulness or do you prefer to tell a juicy story about the one incredibly thoughtless thing he or she did? It's all in the eyes of the beholder. Take this joke, for instance:
A woman's husband has been slipping in and out of a coma for several months, yet she stayed by his bedside every single day. When he came too, he motioned for her to come near her.
As she sat by him, he said, "You know what? You have been with me all through the bad times. When I got fired, you were there to support me. When my business failed, you were there. When I got shot, you were by my side. When we lost the house, you gave me support. When my health started failing, you were still by my side. You know what?"
"What dear?" she asked gently.
"I think you bring me bad luck."
When you started your relationship, you talked like an optimist, expressing joy and happiness about building a future together. As the years progressed, you and your mate probably shifted into a pessimistic auto-mode, in which you talk more about what is wrong and less about what is right.
How can you renew the optimistic feeling you once enjoyed? For one thing, find a single positive in your relationship every day and say it out loud. Yes, you think your spouse knows that you are happy when he/she arrives home, but if you don't smile and greet your mate with a warm hello or a hug, then you are leaving your honey in the dark.
Even if things aren't perfect at home, every day you must find one upbeat moment to focus on. For instance, if you and your partner bicker a lot, but were more civil on a certain day, point that out: "Hey did you notice that we didn't argue at all today? I am proud of us." Or if your mate made a generous offer, recognize it and say, "That was kind of you to offer to go to the doctor with me. Your support means a lot." Just because your mate did something to tick you off early in the day don't ignore something positive done later in the day.
Next, choose your friends wisely. On the TV show Saturday Night Live there is a recurring hilarious skit about the Needlers, "a bickering couple who should be divorced." The couple is always complaining, fighting, or rudely putting each other down in front of others. They are a toxic couple, sapping other people's optimism and draining their energy. If you have the misfortune of spending time with a couple like them, I suggest you exit as soon as possible because pessimism and optimism are contagious. It is rewarding to spend time with people who are upbeat and show appreciation and respect for each other.
Finally, practicing optimism means finding and sharing a variety of activities with people who inspire love, peace, joy in your life. Don't make your love relationship the one meaningful thing you have. Widen your lens. Get involved with people and interests to complement your relationship with your mate. Do you like to go for walks in the park? Do you enjoy exercise, yoga, sports or cooking? Do you have a close friend who likes to do those things? Call him or her more often. Do you like to write, paint or knit? Then introduce your child to those activities.
If becoming a love optimist seems like work to you, just consider the time and energy you will waste as a pessimist who instills anxiety, worry, anger, and fear into your relationship. Practice these uplifting strategies and in days you will discover that you like yourself, your mate and your life, much more.
Laurie Puhn is a Harvard-educated lawyer, couples mediator, and bestselling author of "Fight Less, Love More: 5-Minute Conversations to Change Your Relationship Without Blowing Up or Giving In," who frequently appears on CNN, "Good Morning America," and "The Early Show" to offer relationship advice. Visit her at www.fightlesslovemore.com
Relationship advice from best-selling author Laurie Puhn
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