Entering the Zone of Zero Negativity

At the recent Imago Relationships International conference Harville Hendrix and Helen Lakelly Hunt, the founders of Imago Relationship Therapy, shared their own journey from painful criticism and will struggle to a place of loving, joyful connection and the central commitment they made to get there:  a commitment to maintaining their relationship as a place of zero negativity.  The idea of such a commitment is hard for most of us to even imagine.  Our world is so immersed in negative interactions that saying and doing hurtful things is almost the norm.  Whether we are listening to politicians running for office, leaders of countries discussing those who oppose them, or simply watching TV it seems as those it is easier to put others down than it is to listen to them.

Research by Dr. John Gottman, Ph.D., shows that healthy relationships are characterized by a five to one ratio of positive to negative interactions.  Ironically we seem to do the opposite. In our families and intimate relationships it is all too easy to focus on what others are doing wrong, or what they are not doing right. Even when we see what is good, we rarely say it out loud.

So how do we do this thing?  How do we turn it around and create a no negativity zone in our lives.  Part of the wisdom that Harville and Helen shared was that they took it “one day at a time.”  They put a calender on the wall, and each day that they were able to refrain from negative behaviors or speech was rewarded with a smiley face.  The goal:  90 smiley faces in a row.  In other words, you don’t have to be perfect all the time, just do your best for today.

A new way to love - Imago Relationship Therapy

A few suggestions to get started:

Turn criticisms into requests

If you are upset take responsibility for taking care of yourself instead of blaming your partner

Make sure to tell your partner (or children) every time they do something right

Do small acts of kindness for each other

Hold each other without words, and smile often

Most importantly, don’t wait for your partner to take the first step – make the commitment within yourself to refrain from all negativity and hurtful behaviors and watch the magical transformation in your relationship unfold.

Posted by Laura

Laura Marshall, LCSW, is the founder and director of the Sagebrush Center for Relationship Therapy. Her experience spans thirty years of supporting couples and individuals to create healthy and meaningful lives and relationships. She is also adjunct faculty for the New Mexico Highlands School of Social Work. She lives with her husband Steve and five sons in Farmington, New Mexico.

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