Grow Your Bank of Positive Sentiment Override
/ Author: Jonathan Heinen
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Grow Your Bank of Positive Sentiment Override

Couples are spending more time with each other than ever during these pandemic days. Being intentional about spending positive time together and getting help when needed can keep your relationship strong and healthy

By Jon Heinen, Representative

About a year ago, my wife and I started going to a counsellor. Immediately you might think, uh oh, they must be facing some serious marital strife.

Interestingly, we started seeing a counsellor not because of significant issues, but rather to support our communication as two people sharing a life together. That is certainly not always easy, even though we generally get along really well.

One of the first things our counsellor suggested was to go on more dates. He didn’t suggest anything elaborate or fancy, rather just for us to spend intentional time together.

Go for a walk. Go for dessert and talk. Connect in a way that doesn’t include kids, housework, renovations, or work in the background. Most importantly, have fun together away from the demands of regular life.

One of the things we quickly discovered was that we actually enjoyed spending time together. I put that into the good category.

We also discovered that when we spent more lighthearted time together, we communicated better about things that I thought were major frustrations, but were actually simple communication issues—“Oh, I didn’t realize . . .” or, “Is that what you thought I meant?”

After a few weeks of trying to intentionally date once every week to 10 days, we started to realize we disconnected less frequently and were quicker to resolve misunderstandings. We certainly still got into kerfuffles, but they were filled with less overbearing frustration, and instead were replaced by compassion.

The key, according to our counsellor, was a concept called positive sentiment override. When we spend more time together in a positive, thoughtful way, we build up a bank of positive interactions. It gives us a better chance that when something happens that creates frustration, we look at it from a positive, compassionate perspective.

The opposite—negative sentiment override—is when you have too little interaction and the possibility of perceiving things negatively builds up.

I love this idea of recognizing the need to build up positive sentiment in our relationships. It makes complete sense that when we spend more intentional time together, we might understand each other a bit better and show compassion for those times when living with someone who can be so different from us is a challenge.

I think of two themes from this experience. First, relationships are not easy. Naturally, the differences that make us attracted to our partner also create the potential for strife.

Add a busy life, driving kids around from here to there, earning enough to live, supporting our families and communities—how much time we spend together needs to be intentionally scheduled into our weeks, or those differences might overwhelm us. Especially during this pandemic time when we are all experiencing unnatural stress.

Second, an openness to seek help is a worthwhile endeavor, even just to encourage good communication and provide guidance for healthy living. For my wife and I, we needed someone to help us see our differences, give us pointers to work through them, and guide our conversations when we feel stuck.

We still see the counsellor from time to time as a means of support. Our experience has made me a huge proponent of utilizing counselling for close relationships.

Taking care of our relationships with those closest to us isn’t always easy or simple for everyone. I hope that by sharing my vulnerability, others will continue the good work to connect meaningfully with their partner in life. Build each other up, and grow your bank of positive sentiment override.

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