Sonya Thomas lcsw

Gottman Part 2 of 5 – Positive and Negative Sentiment Override

Continuing on in our Gottman series, today we are looking at a concept called sentiment override.  Sentiment override falls into two categories: negative sentiment override (NSO) and positive sentiment override (PSO).

In Gottman’s theory, when negative sentiment override (NSO) is present, there is a discrepancy between the perceptions of the receiver and the sender of an interaction.   The receiver perceives the interaction through a negative lens, even when their partner did not intend it to be negative.  In fact, objective observers would not perceive the interaction to be negative, as well.  It is in the “eyes of the beholder” so to speak, that they are on the receiving end of something negative.  An actually neutral or positive communication sent by one partner is interpreted by the other partner as negative. Hence, negative sentiments or feelings override positive or neutral  interaction. When NSO is at play, negative perception is “the subtext” that accompanies interactions.  Basically, you are expecting, assuming, projecting, and experiencing negativity, even though that is not, in reality, what is occurring in a given interaction.  An example would be if your partner does not choose to watch your favorite TV shows you, opting instead to work on a project outside.  If NSO were at play, you would assume that you are being ignored or are unimportant to your partner.  You might begin to sulk and whine and start withholding affection because your partner is choosing to do something other than sit on the sofa and share in an activity that is pleasurable to you.  Something neutral (a difference in preference on how to spend free time) is experienced and perceived as negative.

In positive sentiment override (PSO), negative interactions are not seen as particularly negative, or at least they are not taken personally.  When there is PSO between a couple, the partners give each other the benefit of the doubt, and even if one partner is conveying negativity in content or tone, the other does not personalize, react to, match, or “store away for a rainy day” their partner’s bad mood, negativity, etc.  An example would be when your partner comes home in the evening in a foul mood and fails to acknowledge you sweetly.  If you invoked PSO, you would say to yourself “Wow, he must have had a terrible day.  I’m going to do what I can to make his evening more relaxing and pleasant.”  Bam; what could have spiraled down into a bad evening now has much more of a shot at turning out more pleasant for both folks involved.

The Masters of Relationship have lots more positive sentiment override in the mix.  The Disasters of Relationship have lots more negativity.  As you assess your relationship, what can you say about it when it comes to PSO and NSO?

Until next time, peace

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