According to psychologists who follow classical schools of thought, our personalities are molded in large measure by childhood experiences, and man's behavior is subject to a constant struggle with primordial urges. This approach expresses the belief man's evil nature
According to this approach, during the developmental years, children are negatively affected by their parents, even if they are raised in a warm and supportive family. Hence, it follows that we are all neurotic to some degree, and this neuroticism will also be present in our descendants.
On the other hand, those who support the positive psychology approach believe that man is essentially good. Therefore, they focus on researching positive emotions like confidence, hope and trust, as well as positive qualities like fairness, loyalty, courage, creativity, honesty, devotion and more.
Those who are involved in positive psychology do not seek the pathological disturbance which damages a person’s functionality, but rather seek to find ways of improving functioning by enhancing a person’s strengths. In other words, this approach focuses on researching strong human qualities that support a person’s development and growth, as well as sources of strength and mental health.
This idea is wonderfully laid out in the book “Authentic Happiness : Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment”, by Dr. Martin Seligman. The book also includes tests which assist the reader in identifying his or her strengths, locating the positive emotions that can help overcome lows and difficulties in life, and improving quality of life.
In the relationship, garnering positive resources has tremendous significance. Many couples go for counseling, but say they are doubtful about their chances for success. In these cases, it often takes several meetings to remind them of the good things in their lives, despite the negative things they usually see.
Personal positive qualities, and fighting the “nothing can help us” syndrome, must be highlighted. In short, optimism must be instilled.
Seligman suggests in his book a method for building optimism: acknowledging pessimistic thoughts, in order to refute them. For example, take a young couple who goes out for a romantic dinner for the first time after the birth of their first child, but spend the entire evening arguing over silly things, and return home deflated.
The woman, whose read plenty of articles on “marriages that deteriorated after the first child’s birth”, is panic-stricken and flooded with difficult thoughts of divorce. These thoughts can get so out of hand that she begins planner her visitation arrangements and tries to imagine how she'll manage raising the child on her own.
If a friend would have told her the same thoughts, she would have undoubtedly dismissed them. She would have likely pointed out that it is difficult to be romantic when you don’t sleep more than three hours a night, and when you worry during the meal that the baby might wake up crying and the babysitter won’t be able to calm him down.
It is easier for us to encourage others, but when it is happening to us, we have a hard time dealing with the false thoughts. Therefore, it is helpful to treat them as if they were voiced by another person whose principal goal is to make us miserable. At the next stage we must conduct an internal argument with those thoughts, resist them with all our persuasive willpower, and prove to ourselves that they are not grounded in reality.
Focusing on the positive
Other positive qualities worth nurturing in order to rely on during relationship crises are courage, generosity, sincerity, honesty, a sense of humor, forgiveness and the ability to put things in perspective. A brave person, for example, can disconnect the emotional and behavioral components of fear and withstand the behavioral reactions of escape or aggression.
Instead of fleeing the difficulties to be found in any relationship, we must faces the discomfort in initiating a conversation, listen with empathy, display understanding for the other side, expresses emotions and talks about his or her needs without being dragged into an attack on one’s partner.
Courage is also necessary to admit that we are not perfect, and neither are our partners. This will help us find the strength to forgive ourselves, and our partners, for mistakes. This courage can be nurtured and enhanced.
The approach of positive psychology in facing the challenges of marriage and relationships focuses on identifying the good that resides in each and every one of us, in order to achieve satisfaction, meaning and self-fulfillment in a relationship.
Batia Barak-Werbin is relationship coach and conducts groups and individuals in relationship and marriage-related issues