University of Oregon emeritus psychologist Robert Weiss coined the term “Negative Sentiment Override” (NSO) for the emergence of troubling patterns in which trust has been broken in relationships. Rose-colored lenses are shattered and replaced with the persistent and deeply frustrating feeling of being trapped with your partner in an endless void. Delightful! In his research, Dr. Gottman has found that the concept of the Three Boxes is deeply related to the ebb and flow of these perceptions (in theoretical terms, essentially the fluctuating idealization and devaluation of our relationships with our partners). What we called the “valley of darkness” in the Nasty Box becomes an enormous problem as Negative Sentiment Override kicks in and positive feelings felt between partners are decreased from their honeymoon peak. With both these phenomena in place, partners are left trying to push a relationship up a mountain.
Though we all experience difficulties in our relationships (because we are human, and because we are complicated, and because issues of trust are often incredibly difficult to deal with), Dr. Gottman does not believe that all problems can be solved or that all relationships can be healthily maintained! With the understanding he has gathered from over 35 years of research, he appreciates the realities of human relationships, but his books offer great hope. Though they do not imply that our current relationships may be made into our idealized images of perfection, he offers a vast number of tools that we can use to better approach the difficulties we encounter. In discussing trust and beliefs couples form about each other in his upcoming book What Makes Love Last?, he offers the following exercise, allowing couples to determine whether or not they are experiencing Negative Sentiment Override. Take this quiz and find out!
In the recent past in my relationship, generally I felt:
1. Hurt. (T/F)
2. Misunderstood. (T/F)
3. Like “I don’t have to take this.” (T/F)
4. Innocent of blame for the problem. (T/F)
5. Like getting up and leaving. (T/F)
6. Angry. (T/F)
7. Disappointed. (T/F)
8. Unjustly accused, (T/F)
9. “My partner has no right to say those things.” (T/F)
10. Frustrated. (T/F)
11. Personally attacked. (T/F)
12. I wanted to strike back. (T/F)
13. I was warding off a barrage, (T/F)
14. Like I wanted to protect myself. (T/F)
15. I took my partner’s complaints as slights, (T/F)
16. My partner was trying to control me. (T/F)
17. My partner was very manipulative. (T/F)
18. Unjustly criticized. (T/F)
19. Like getting even. (T/F)
20. I wanted the negativity to just stop. (T/F)
Scoring: Add all of your “true” responses. Use a calculator to divide the sum by 20. Multiply the result by 100 to find your percentage. If you scored above 40%, you are currently experiencing Negative Sentiment Override.
Whether you are experiencing NSO or not, check out Dr. Gottman’s new book What Makes Love Last? to learn far more about the fascinating dynamics of trust and to gather incredible, research-based skills you can use for the rest of your life to avoid betrayal!
BY: ELLIE LISITSA
Ellie Lisitsa is a staff writer at The Gottman Institute and a regular contributor to The Gottman Relationship Blog. Ellie is pursuing her B.A. in Psychology with an emphasis on Cognitive Dissonance at Reed College in Portland, Oregon.
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