What is a lucky marriage?
Last week we were talking to a man who has had a year of challenges in his marriage.
Ivan is a thoughtful and articulate man we have been seeing for about a year, and during that time the subject of his marriage has come up many times.
He suggested that a lucky marriage is one where both partners feel that they got the better deal. Since we had just been talking about how difficult things have been for him and some of his wife’s less appealing personality characteristics, the implication was clear that he had not had a lucky marriage.
Sometimes my mind goes off perpendicular to a conversation, and this was one of those times.For some reason I started to think about Martin Seligman. Dr. Seligman is a very well known psychologist, a past president of the American Psychological Association, and an expert on the topic of optimism.
He is also a natural pessimist who made a conscious decision sometime in his midlife to devote himself to becoming more optimistic.
Most of us have at least some tendency to pessimism. Rick Hanson, who we have written a great deal about on this blog, has advanced the reasonable hypothesis that this tendency to see the potential disaster around the corner was one that was highly valuable earlier in our evolution when a predator might be lurking right around the corner. It serves us less well these days.
Dr. Seligman’s book Learned Optimism is one of the best resources for anyone interested in moving from pessimism to optimism. In essence, it began as a set of tools that he developed to help himself make the change.
Back to Ivan and his question about a lucky marriage.
I suggested that it might be possible for him to change his view of his marriage and that that might have the effect of improving it. He said that the problem was he became preoccupied with thoughts about very real flaws in their marriage and that those thoughts came to consume him. He wrestled with them. He tried not to think the thoughts. But they just kept coming back.
We have probably all been there.
And most of us have learned that trying not to think of thought is remarkably difficult. In fact is probably impossible the more you try not to think it, the more you end up thinking about it.
However I also know that a very small dose of positive thought can counteract much larger dose of negative thought.
I suggested to Ivan that the next time he became preoccupied with negative thoughts, with a preoccupation with the very real negative traits of his wife, that he spend just a moment focusing on an example of positive and loving behavior on her part. He tried it in the office and it seemed to be very helpful. It took him out of his sense of being trapped. He felt a little bit more optimistic.
I’m looking forward to my next visit with him to see how this technique plays out in the longer term.