Dr. Suzanne B. Phillips

Licensed Psychologist, Psychoanalyst, Diplomate in Group Psychology, Certified Group Therapist, Author, Radio Host and Media Consultant Covering a Wide Range of Psychological Topics

Post: Positivity Can Change Your Relationship – Powerful Options

One of the biggest traps for couples is the belief that they have to deal with what is wrong with their relationship before they access what is right!

When a couple’s relationship has been sapped of vitality by back and forth resentments, hidden disappointments, lack of affection, and missed affirmations, focusing on negative patterns is too often the start of another round of painful exchanges.

They know the script of pain and put-down. 

What they can’t access is enough positive momentum to remember why and how to feel loving again.


Positivity, which was coined by Barbara Fredrickson, is a broad term that includes the feelings, meanings, and optimistic attitude generated when love, joy, gratitude, fascination, openness, kindness, laughter, flexibility, appreciation and teamwork are shared and experienced.

Resetting a relationship with positivity does not mean denial of life’s problems or minimizing past events, it means setting in motion an evidenced-based dynamic that has been found to build and broaden the capacity to succeed and flourish.

Barbara Fredrickson in collaboration with Marcel Losada found that individuals like business teams flourished when there was a 3 to 1 ratio of positivity to negativity. In his work with couples, Gottman found that those marriages that succeeded compared to those which dissolved had a 5 to 1 ratio of positivity to negativity.

Why Use Positivity?

  • Clinically, what I have found working with couples is that negative behavior is often a by–product of a lack of positivity.

He never tells me he loves me.

 She would rather go out with her friends than be with me.

 I don’t want to be sexual when I don’t feel appreciated

  • Doing something positive for another is actually easier than changing something negative.
  • Feeling that you are “getting something right” with your partner can be a first step that becomes self-propelling.
  • Doing, sharing or expressing something positive toward your partner becomes mutual because it enhances the mood and receptivity of giver and recipient. It has been shown to increase happiness.
  • The planned effort of both partners to be positive changes the trajectory of a relationship.

Does Positivity prevent the unexpected challenges and heartaches in life? No—but it enhances the couple’s resilience because positivity has been proven to build and broaden flexibility, problem solving, optimism– the capacity to flourish.

Does Positivity prevent the typical partner oversights, differences or historical references that can fuel negativity? No—but enough positivity can become a tipping point that offsets negativity.

  • When the day to day is positive, you want to keep it going.
  • When there is a frequent sense and expression of love and respect—you protect it.
  • When the positives are there to remember, you don’t sweat the small stuff. You forgive the mistakes. You overlook the absurd. You disagree and then cook dinner together.

Options for Using Positivity

An effective way for couples to re-set with positivity is to “ practice the positives.”

  • Essentially this takes a decision to notice, affirm, remember, create and join in positive feelings and experiences with your partner.
  • It doesn’t mean moving mountains or changing overnight, it means two people joining in the dynamic of being positive to each other.

Combine Affirmation with Action

  • Often when I ask partners if they compliment and verbally affirm each other, they quickly explain- “ She knows I love her.” “ He knows I appreciate how hard he works.”

I then ask, “ How often do you water your plants?”

  • Positive affirming is never outdated or unnecessary.  It is a crucial part of daily positivity because it is emotional nurturing. It prevents the feeling of being taken for granted, and gives back in feelings of mutuality and connection.
  • We might consider a positive spin to the civilian transit alert, “ If you see something—say something…positive.”
  • Protestations of love without positive actions are hallow. They fuel doubt, resentment and mistrust.
  • Positive Actions that are never accompanied by some type of affirmation of “ I love you” leave a loud silence of pain and sometimes doubt between two partners. Remember when you said it the first time? It is valuable to re-visit that together.  Don’t leave the words of love behind.

Capitalize on the Positive Times

  • Being there in the “ rough times” is crucial to the trust and support that partners share. Just as important is being there is the “ good times.” In most people’s daily life there is a tendency to share the problems, vent the feelings and offer suggestions (requested or not) with  a partner. Consider that sharing and responding to each other’s positive experiences (big and small) is an often overlooked but very valuable strategy in marriage positivity.
  • Christopher Langston terms this capitalization. He suggests that the sharing actually capitalizes on the event and results in a positive experience independent of the actual event.
  • When your spouse shares that he/she will be taking on the management of a new department or is close to being at the top of the golf league, the mutual excitement or enjoyment becomes another positive event that is share.

Just Be There

  • Given our typical race against time in this culture, it is easy to overlook the positive value of “just being there” with your partner.
  • The next time your partner has to pick up something from the store, is polishing a car or chopping up vegetables – offer to be there for a while.
  • When people are in love, being together for a few minutes to check in with a smile, accompany someone on a chore, get an unexpected cup of coffee, share a funny story—affirms the gift of the relationship.

Respond to Your Partner’s Needs.

Fulfilling some need your partner has that you may not have is big on fueling positivity. The message is—I am going to the office party, the film, the rodeo, the race, your uncle’s concert because it is important to you—and I love you.

“The Butterfly Effect”

An important phenomenon identified by those who studied the impact of positivity from mathematical and systems perspectives is the finding that small even seemingly trivial inputs like the flapping of butterfly wings in one location can impact what happens somewhere else.

The message for partners is to believe that when it comes to relationships small efforts are big. It does not take enormous changes to re-set your relationship with positivity—it takes living each day together with positive intention.

“Happily ever after is not a fairy tale. It’s a choice.”