How to Use Positive Psychology to Get Past Your Partner’s Annoying Quirks

Tips from Philly's positive psychology pros.

Image courtesy Penguin Books.

No matter how Hollywood may paint it, falling in love is actually the easy part — it’s staying in love that’s the real trick. And that is the focus of a new book by husband and wife team Suzann and James Pawelski, Happy Together: Using the Science of Positive Psychology to Build Love That Lasts.

In the book, the authors — who both have a background in psychology (she’s got a masters in applied positive psychology; he’s the director of education and senior scholar at The University of Pennsylvania’s Positive Psychology Center) — make the case for using a focus on the positive to make a relationship last. Positive psychology — which the authors define as “the scientific study of what makes individuals and communities thrive” — flips around the approach to relationships. Rather than working to fix problems in a relationship, you’re focusing enhancing the good traits.

For any sports fans out there, the authors explain positive psychology as such: “Solely having a good defense wouldn’t have been enough for the Eagles to win the Super Bowl. Focusing on a strong offense and aggressively going after what they wanted — scoring points —led to a Super Bowl victory for the Eagles.”

That said, while the whole focus of the book is on improving the good rather than fixing the bad — or as the authors say, growing plants instead of pulling weeds — the weeds still exist. Here’s their advice for working on some common relationship issues through the power of positive psychology.

If you’re fighting over household tasks and responsibilities.

“Plan in advance who will do which chore based upon each other’s natural strengths and interests. For example, if your partner doesn’t know the difference between a jack potato and a sweet potato, and his idea  of eating healthy is the daily drive-thru, you’ll both be better off if you take over the food shopping.”

If someone forgot an important relationship mile marker.

“Couples who have the healthiest relationships express more positive comments than negative comments to their partners. So you might want to lead with a few things that you really appreciate about your partner. And then you can (calmly) mention how you were disappointed about how your partner forgot the one special day. Remember to end on a positive note reassuring your partner about the many things you are grateful to him or her about. Peak-end theory shows that we tend to view an event or an experience by how it ends so capping your conversation with a supportive and positive comment will reassure your partner that the one mistake isn’t going to take a serious toll on your relationship.”

If someone spent a lot of money — without talking to the other person first.

“If he or she put a major dent if your life savings, that would be a big issue that warrants a serious and immediate conversation. However, if it’s a run-of-the-mill-type of expense that isn’t going to put you into debt, perhaps you can first celebrate the joy that the gift seemed to bring to your partner since research shows celebrating and sharing in our partner’s joy may strengthen the relationship. You can then point out your concerns to her such as not talking to you in advance as you had previously discussed you’d do and foiling your previously agreed upon plans to try to save more money together. Brainstorm ways on how you can handle future purchases over a certain amount.”

If someone has a quirk that isn’t so cute anymore.

“Try to reframe your thoughts. Instead of seeing these quirks as deficits in your partner, see them as differences. Think back to the beginning of the relationship during the honeymoon phase when perhaps you hung on every word uttered by your partner and found those quirks so endearing. Try to evoke those positive emotions of interest and admiration you felt when hearing your partner slowly and deliberately choosing each of his words to logically explain a complex concept to an audience. So rather than thinking he’s deliberately trying to annoy you by perhaps being persnickety, realize it’s his strength of logical thinking that is being played out.”

If someone is always, always late.

“Try leading with a compliment to diffuse your annoyance. Perhaps tell her you really appreciate her free spirit and boundless energy and curiosity. At the same time, mention to her that her tendency to get involved in so many projects seems to sidetrack her and delay her. Next, ask her if she can help you understand what you can do to help her be on time. In that way, you’re showing you care and are offering to help her find a solution to the situation.”

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