Most couples have a “story of us” that forms the basis of family myth and legend. Couple Jordan and Riley have a negative story that tends to predict the way they view their interactions and relationship. Dr John Gottman calls this ‘negative sentiment override’. It influences your experience of your relationship by leading you to look for the negatives. Couple Chris and Robin have a positive story. Positive “Story of Us” stories help you to look for the positives in your relationship leading to a more satisfying and meaningful life where we can appreciate our partners and what’s good in our relationships. Here’s how to rewrite your story into a narrative that can refresh your relationship for 2020. This is a great exercise to do together.
Remember your first meeting
Think back to when you met each other? What attracted you? What led you to make a move towards your partner? Can you remember what you were thinking? Jordan says Riley was the last person left at a party they attended (negative story). Whereas Chris describes seeing Robin laugh across the room and knowing immediately they needed to meet (positive story). Maybe you felt so comfortable with your partner you could talk about anything. Maybe it was an Internet date and you were relieved you wanted to spend time getting to know this person. Whatever it was, you decided to take the relationship a step further. Remember the feelings you enjoyed at the time and share them with each other. Add them to your story.
Ask yourself how do you want to share the story of your meeting in a way you can be proud? How do you want to tell your friends and family about the way you met? Together can you agree on the basis of ‘your story’?
Falling in love
As you got to know each other you realised you were falling in love. What do you remember about that time? How was it special? What decided you to get more serious? If you’re in negative sentiment override like Jordan and Riley you may have developed a story around “making a mistake’ with your feelings. Can you identify where your narrative diverges from reality? If you’ve been telling the negative story for a long time it can be difficult to remember what it was really like.
Once you’ve identified any false narrative, question your beliefs about the story. How were you feeling at the time without the retelling in a negative context? Can you introduce some positives into your story? “Cut away what no longer serves you,” says Dr John Sharp, author of “The Insight Cure: Change Your Story, Transform Your Life”. Ask yourself, “How is the negative story serving me”?
Your highs and lows
Next, introduce the positive memories of your main moments. How did you feel getting married or making a commitment? Chris and Robin describe exchanging their vows as an intensely spiritual experience. How did you recover from your first fight? Chris and Robin laugh and remember how quickly they wanted to make up. Can you inject some humour into the retelling? Jordan and Riley are still harbouring a grudge from those days. What was it like to move into together? Travel together? Or have a child together? How did you overcome adversity together? Can you include more “we” than “me” in your story?
Express your appreciation
Using your “story of us” to express your appreciation can help build a positive perspective and the feeling of “we”. Add into your story some fond memories of your partner and some of your partner’s traits that you especially admire and appreciate. Chris and Robin use their story to remind their kids of the love and support they have for each other with anecdotes celebrating each other. They describe the amazing adventures they had in their early days and how they overcome the odds to create their wonderful family.
Share your story
Once you and your partner have reworked your narrative into something you can remember fondly and want to share – share your “story of us”. Use the retelling to refresh your perspective and guide you forward in 2020.
If you’d like to learn more about how to refresh your relationship check out my workshops for couples here.