I'll be honest I downright loathe when people say, "just be positive", "look on the bright side", or "it could be worse". There is nothing more invalidating than spilling your guts, your gritty, down and dirty, God's honest truth and having someone respond with a cliche about positivity. It is ok to not be ok and in fact it is healthy to experience life's range of emotions and talk about them. Apparently, however, we need to be very careful about how we talk about them.
A while back I watched a Tedx Talk from Jenna McCarthy called "What you don't know about marriage". In her talk McCarthy gave a spitfire list of items that make couples more and less likely to get a divorce based on scientific research. Each item was interesting but as a counselor who pushes up against societal expectations of positivity one particular point stood out. McCarthy at one point explains that couples who are able to find positives through any situation are less likely to get a divorce. I suppose logically this makes sense, but how many of us can honestly meet that standard?
Many will discuss the need for confessing their gripes to their partner in the name of ‘communication’. My partner is a very positive person. His personality leads him to have a sunny disposition with a proclivity for bringing people up. I, however, am more of a...let's say realist. Though I'm sure my partner wouldn't dare call me a negative person, I am more likely to spring into action to fix whatever I can than to try and find the silver lining. This at times is a bit out of sync with my cheery partner. All of this left me wondering am I doomed? Does this mean only people who have a tendency toward a positive personality end up in happy long-term marriages? Or can this positivity be a skill to be sharpened over the course of a relationship?
To prevent a breakdown of my hopes and dreams for domestic bliss, and so you don't have to, I did more research. A study done by Carstensen, Levenson, and the resident marriage expert himself, John Gottman looked first at the impact a negative affect had on the happiness and satisfaction of marriages. Next, the study reviewed the amount of negative affect over the course of marriages. I was interested to see if negative affect lessened over time due to the maturity of the individuals in the marriage, or simply practicing positivity.
The study found that over the course of long-term marriage there is neither a lessened effect of negativity on the satisfaction of marriages nor is there a clear decrease in negativity over time. This all suggests what we've all heard many times, marriage is work. If marriage is something we want we have to dedicate ourselves to trying to find the positives in our partners and our situations. This doesn't mean we have to happy all the time. Rather, in our moments of unhappiness, we look for what is still good in the world and in our lives. We can do this through gratitude journaling, calm communication with our partner, and of course individual and couples counseling. I will be the first to admit this is something I have to work on myself but for me the potential of a long happy marriage is worth all the effort.
Did any of this surprise you? Is there another great Ted Talk you love that you think I should watch? Let me know!