Just suppose some essential vitamin—vitamin C, let’s say—disappeared from your diet. You were eating exactly the same as before, but no vitamin C was getting through. You wouldn’t notice it at first. In fact, you probably wouldn’t notice it until you got sick, and even then you probably wouldn’t know why you’d gotten sick. You could possibly die before you figured all this out.
Well, the same thing happens in our relationships. There is a vital ingredient in our love lives that keeps them alive, but we too often don’t realize this ingredient is missing until it’s dwindled or even disappeared, maybe even for a long time.
What is this vital ingredient?
It’s getting the sense from your partner that you are wonderful. Special. Delightful. Terrific. Irreplaceable.
This is EXACTLY what we get from the other person when we’re falling in love! It’s what makes falling in love so lovely!! Hearing these words. Getting this message.
And then what happens?
Nothing special really. It’s sad and tragic and stupid how little it takes to spoil love. In this case, the “nothing special” can be as little as the grinding away of everyday life. Days, weeks, months, years of our telling each other...
“Why can’t you remember to take out the garbage.”
“You’ve GOT to remember to be careful about how much money you spend.”
“Why can’t you call me when you’re going to be late?”
“When are you going to get how much your mother annoys me?”
“You’ve got to do something about your snoring.”
“For god’s sake, stop looking at your phone when I’m talking with you.”
Hey, it’s all so innocent. You’re just trying to work out living together. We all have to do that. But the weeds of all these remarks can so, so, so easily crowd out any and all messages of “Gee, you’re wonderful.”
First we starve, but usually without quite understanding why. We just know that the joy of the two of you being together has turned into a grind. You’ve gone from “I can’t wait to see you” to thinking “How can I postpone seeing him?”
And what’s really going on?
Barely anything. The daily grind and the quiet ghosting of much needed mutual appreciation. So little. And yet it’s everything. As fatal as the blow of a sledgehammer.
Where do you think affairs come from? Sex? Yeah, to some degree. The need for variety? That too. But for both genders it’s much, much more likely to be the starvation for being with someone who’s hungry to be with you and will tell you are the joy of their life. Who’ll say, “I couldn’t wait to see you,” and then show you why they feel that way.
If you’re not there already, you’re probably on your way to this sad state of affairs, and anniversaries and Valentine’s days can’t turn the tide.
So what do you do about it?
Think of a counting system.
There are purely neutral remarks. “I just heard the Momsens are moving to Montana.” No emotional weight, positive or negative. So this gets a score of zero.
There are negative remarks. “You forgot to pick up the dry cleaning again.” Yeah, I know, this might sound like a simple declarative sentence. But whatever your intentions, it will always be heard as a criticism. A dig. Like feeling you’ve been picked at. So this gets a score of minus 4.
And there are positive remarks. The field is wide open here. There’s the specific: “Oh, you did really good shopping.” The semi-specific: “You know, you’re a really good mom.” The general: “You’re just terrific.” This gets a score of plus 1.
And when the day’s over—every day—the score for both of you should up there in the plus numbers. Remember: you need five plus 1's to give to you total score of 1 if you also have just one minus 4.
Remember, because this is key: negative remarks HURT. So it takes a lot more than one positive remark to undo a negative remark. You’ll need a bunch of positive remarks to make up for a negative remark.
Or you could—crazy thought1—just make fewer negative remarks.
Now you might say, “How do I get my needs met if I don’t make a negative remark?”
Negative remarks are combos of complaint and blame. Now: would you walk into a restaurant and complain to the waiter how hungry you are and blame him for it? Of course not!! You’d just say, “I’ll start off with the shrimp cocktail, then I’ll have the...”
If you’re needs aren’t being met—and if you’re in a relationship they probably aren’t, because that’s just the way it is—skip the complaining and blaming (the negative remarks) and keep asking for what you want—and figuring out ways to ask for what you want—until you finally get what you want.
We wrote a whole, entire book about this!!!! Why Couples Fight. We could have called it Why People in Relationships Suffer. Get your hands on this book. This will show you exactly what to do to get your needs met. It’ll change everything.