That’s what Rachel felt.
She just knew that Daniel was losing interest.
He was still going out with the guys one night a week. He hadn’t talked to her about summer plans. He barely made an effort for Valentine’s Day.
Surely, if he was really into her, he’d be pulling out all the stops.
He’d be wanting to spend every free moment with her. He’d be including her in future plans. He’d have made a huge deal out of Valentine’s Day.
Her girlfriends agreed.
“He’s just not that into you, Rach,” they told her.
Now, every time she was with Daniel, she couldn’t stop noticing signs she hadn’t seen before. Signs that his feelings were cooling.
He sat on the opposite side of the couch instead of right next to her. He made himself a drink without asking her if she wanted one. He didn’t seem as interested when she told him about her day.
She couldn’t help herself. She made some snarky comment about how distant he was acting. He had the audacity to seem offended, like he didn’t know what she was talking about.
Things got worse between them. Rachel found herself picking fights with him, hoping to provoke him into saying how he really felt.
Two weeks later, Daniel finally told her the truth.
It was over.
The Moral of the Story?
If you read Rachel’s story one way, you might conclude that Rachel was smart to start emotionally disengaging when she did.
She saw the signs. She protected herself from getting hurt even worse.
But if you read Rachel’s story another way, you see such a missed opportunity for connection.
Their relationship didn’t have to turn out that way. Rachel may have jumped to the wrong conclusion and created what she feared most.
What could Rachel have done differently?
It starts with understanding negative sentiment override…
Relationship Tunnel Vision
We don’t always perceive what’s going on in our relationship accurately.
We pay attention to certain things our partner does and miss other things.
We’re more likely to see behaviors that we’re primed to notice.
Let’s say that a friend of yours is going through a tough time in her relationship. She talks about all the ways in which her partner is selfish.
You come home, and you start to notice those same behaviors in your partner. You realize that your guy is quite selfish, too!
Or let’s say you tell your friends about your weekend, how your guy went off with his friends while you stayed at home. Your friends say, “How rude! He couldn’t have even invited you?”
Now you start to see all the ways in which your guy is excluding you.
In some cases, this feedback can be helpful. It lets you see your relationship from a different angle.
But in other cases, that criticism can cause you to pay extra attention to everything your guy is getting wrong and ignore all the things he’s getting right.
You end up in “negative sentiment override,” where everything your partner does seems like evidence that he’s a bad person or not invested in the relationship.
When you’re in this mode, even a neutral behavior—like sitting a few feet away from you on the couch—takes on ominous overtones.
There’s No Perfect Partner
Your guy will sometimes deserve that criticism.
He’s not perfect. There are ways in which he could behave better.
But the same is true for all of us.
Relationships aren’t easy. We bring to them all our vulnerabilities and all our flaws.
In good relationships, there’s a generosity of spirit that allows us to focus on the good and cope with the bad.
It’s not that couples in good relationships are better people than those in conflicted relationships. It’s just that they keep their challenges in perspective.
They know that the benefits of being together and their partner’s good qualities outweigh the bad.
That perspective gets lost when you’re in negative sentiment override.
All you can see is the bad. You’ve lost sight of the good.
The Gottman Institute found that happy couples and unhappy couples do just as many nice things for each other.
The only difference?
The unhappy couples notice just 50% of the nice things their partner does for them.
Which gives us a clue as to how to break out of this pattern…
Your 1-Week Challenge
For one week, notice all the good things your partner does for you, no matter how small.
Pay attention to the way he asks you if you’re comfortable, makes room for you, tidies up the mess in the kitchen, or texts you to let you know he’ll be late.
Your goal is to see the good things he’s doing as accurately as you can see the bad things he’s doing.
If he is indeed leaving you out, not thinking about you, or not making an effort, you’ll know by the end of the week, because you’ll have very few things on the Good List.
But it may be that he’s putting in a lot of effort under the radar. What he’s doing isn’t big or splashy, so you take it for granted.
The bad things our partner does naturally draw our attention, so it takes work to pay as much attention to the good things they do.
But that practice pays off.
When you show appreciation for what a man does, he does more of it.
Don’t let negative sentiment override stop you from seeing the ways in which your partner is investing in the relationship. You owe it to each other to see the good with as much clarity as the bad.