Realization #88: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back?


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The other day I felt like I took two steps back in my marriage…yet again.

My husband and I were talking about something and he made a comment that didn’t sit well with me. And I reacted right away… as I  usually do… after having said I would try to give him the benefit of the doubt first.

It was frustrating for him. But it was more frustrating for me, because I thought I had “grown” and “learned” from this bad habit.

The thing that bugged me the most was that I had said I would try not to do that again. And I really believed I wouldn’t. In fact, I was making progress in this area already!

However, I suppose the fact that I said “I would try” kinda offers me a sort of “get out of jail free” card? After all, I didn’t say “I would never do that again” because I know that’s not realistic.

But I was still frustrated.  Because as mentioned before, for the first time in a long while, I felt like I was making progress. I felt like I was making headway in an area I struggled with over the years. I could count the instances I had chosen my thoughts and actions better and not gone down that route, but now, all that got erased by this most recent incident when I went down the same tired well-worn path.

In psychology, there is a phenomenon called “the negativity bias”. It’s the tendency that when asked to recall a recent emotional event,  people tend to report negative events more often than they report positive events. This is thought to be because these negative memories are more salient than are the positive memories. (This phenomenon alone lends itself for another blog post down the road!) This means that more likely than not, my husband and I will both remember this most recent incident more vividly than positive incidents in the past. Wonderful! (I’m being sarcastic if you can’t tell.)

But there’s a take home message from psychologists too about this phenomenon. Ever heard of the 5:1 ratio? For every 1 bad event you need 5 positive events to overcome the psychological effects of the 1 bad event.  In the past, I understood this as I should do 5 kind things for my husband to make up for the 1 not so great thing I did. And while this is true and important, it is also important that I do the same for myself.  I need to be more kind and forgiving of myself. Yes, I messed up, and I should be mindful that, but at the same time, I am human and I will mess up. That’s a given. But I know there are a lot of positive and good things I did / do in my relationship and this 1 faux pas doesn’t negate all of that.