The next level in Gottman’s Sound Relationship House is called the Positive Perspective. Gottman says that happy couples have Positive Sentiment Override, meaning that they view their spouse in a positive way. Neutral actions are interpreted with positive meanings, and even negative actions are interpreted as “she’s just having a bad day.” In contrast, unhappy couples tend to have Negative Sentiment Override. Positive actions by the spouse are interpreted to have manipulative motivation, and neutral actions are thought to be negative.
For example, think of this common event: a husband walks in the door and says, “hi Honey, I’m home.” A wife with positive sentiment override will assume that the husband’s intention in saying this is to show that he’s happy to be home with her. A wife with negative sentiment override might assume he’s announcing his arrival so that she will make him dinner and tend to his whims.
In both cases, the reality of his motivation (maybe he’s happy, maybe he wants dinner, or maybe it’s just a matter of fact statement that he’s home) is not relevant. It’s her perception of him that matters in how satisfied she is in her relationship. And it goes both ways: husbands also have either positive or negative sentiment override as well.
So how can you have a more positive sentiment about your spouse? The answer is in having “money” in the “relationship bank.” This is done by working on the previous levels of the house: knowing each other’s inside worlds, showing fondness and admiration, turning toward each other instead of away, and accepting influence from your spouse. If you find that you have a negative sentiment override toward your spouse, work on the lower levels. Get to know each other, find what you like and appreciate about each other, find a way to be partners together.
As always, I strongly recommend The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, by John Gottman.