Blame, resentment, and negative feelings take precedence.
Is this anything that has happened to you? “This restaurant cuisine is good, isn’t it?” you say as you eat takeaway from your favourite restaurant. “You’ve never appreciated my cuisine,” your boyfriend responds. Alternatively, you may say something like, “We need a vacation.” “It’s been a long time since we went out together,” she says, prompting the response, “What should I do to make you happy?” “Would you like me to leave my job?” You’re bewildered, so you try to defend yourself, but it only appears to make the situation worse.
You sometimes worry what you said incorrectly. Was it your words or the context that made the difference? Something appears to be bothering your partner, and you’re not sure what it is. You eventually give up since conversation leads nowhere except to strife. Instead, you concentrate on anything else, such as work, housework, or scrolling through social media. Though you want for your partner’s company, it appears to be an impossibility to attain.
Blame, resentment, and negative feelings take precedence.
It’s possible that your partner has accumulated resentments and is locked in a negative sentiment override mode. Weiss thought that sentiment overrides affect couple interactions. In essence, leftover emotions from each connection (which could include words, gestures, facial expressions, or body language) aggregate over time, forming a new dimension of the relationship that deviates from the objectivity of present exchanges. Your partner is secretly suffering from feelings of being irrelevant, unwanted, or uncared for, and now interprets everything you say through a negative lens. Many spouses may be surprised by this because they do not recall saying or doing anything to provoke their partner’s underlying rage.
This resentment arose when you were late when they were expecting you; you mistakenly exposed their personal information to friends; or you repeatedly overlooked things and activities that they consider important. Your partner may have expressed their concern subtly, and you may have dismissed it since you had your own reasons. They fled as time passed, believing their concern was pointless, which went unnoticed as well. Your partner is now spiteful and nasty, criticising and dismissing everything you say. If the scenario continues for a long time, and several attempts to start a regular dialogue fail, you may end up with negative sentiment override.
Research on Sentiment Override
Dr. John Gottman and his colleagues found this phenomena in 96 newlywed couples, where observers scored talk differently than that of partners in a conflict situation. The encounters were regarded adversely by partners, even though they did not appear to be unpleasant to the researchers.
However, in some couples, neutral and low-intensity negative messages were perceived favourably, resulting in a different outcome. The spouse would have answered positively in the preceding two situations, such as “I know you adore this restaurant” or “I miss our vacations too, so we should arrange one soon.” There was a positive sentiment override here, with the partner responding favourably to the neutral comment.
In troubled couples, negative sentiment override was more common, whereas in non-distressed couples, positive sentiment override was more common. Even when their partners exhibited neutral or positive actions, the troubled couples interpreted the messages negatively. These patterns, along with others such as The Four Horsemen of Apocalypse (Criticism, Defensiveness, Contempt, and Stonewalling) and Emotional Disengagement (as seen in other longterm research by Dr. Gottman), kept the couples in a state of anguish.
How do you break this pattern?
Here are some ways as suggested by Dr. John and Julie Gottman to get out of this cycle.
Communicate to Listen. Your partner is suffering from emotional trauma. “You didn’t defend me in front of your folks!” “When I was unwell, you weren’t there for me!” “You made fun of me in front of my parents the first year of our marriage!” These old wounds are now a perceptual filter through which your partner assesses you. Discuss these concerns with your partner until he or she feels heard and healed.
Keep the Four Horsemen at bay. Any relationship can be ruined by the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Though these patterns are frequently adopted as protection strategies, the words spoken leave a deep scar. The words of defence take centre stage in the disagreement, rather than the core issues (e.g., emotions of unheardness, rejection, loneliness, etc.) that need to be healed. While the spouses feel lost in repeated bouts of fighting, the aching underlying feelings remain unresolved. Instead of unleashing the Horsemen, share your deeper sentiments and desires.
Accept Responsibility. Concentrate on the flaws rather than the logic of the argument. In a relationship, there is no right or wrong. It is only the emotions that are important. Hear and comprehend. Accept responsibility for your involvement in causing harm to your relationship. Accept and empathise with them while they heal their scars.
Self-Soothe. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, take a 30-minute pause until you feel more at ease. Words spoken under duress simply serve to exacerbate the situation. Even if you walk away to avoid a potentially stressful scenario, it could be misinterpreted as being left stranded. Keep your partner informed that you’re stressed and need a break, and let them know when you’ll be able to resume the conversation and bring it to a conclusion. Make your spouse aware of your sensitivity so that they understand how important it is to you as well as to them. Make a moment to reconnect as well.
Breaking through the negative sentiment override and resuming a functional dialogue with your partner might be difficult. Allow someone who specialises in mental health to assist you.