Earlier this week I was enjoying a cyber chat with my sister, who lives out of province. Our conversation wandered from work, to the economy, to politics. Finally we landed on relationships (It’s a bit of an occupational hazard for me). She asked “what’s the one thing it takes to make a marriage succeed?” “Well, there’s really no one thing” I replied. “It takes lots of things”. But she pressed me. She wanted to know “the one thing”. She is 10 years my me senior, and can get a little bossy (I love her anyway) so I decided to pick one of the dozen or so things that the research has found to be crucial. “It’s perspective” I told her. She wanted to know what in the world I meant by that.

Actually perspective, or sentiment, colours everything about a relationship. It becomes the lens through which you view every event and interaction. Here’s what I mean: All of us have a perspective, or a way of thinking about our relationship. If you are happy, and think highly of your partner, you will interpret events through that lens. Sure, he/she has some shortcomings and can be annoying from time to time, but their good qualities seem to cancel out the bad. So he forgot your birthday and you are really quite miffed about that. But how are you going to stay angry at this guy who takes your side every time your boss is on your case? So, after the appropriate amount of grovelling, you forgive and move on. That’s how positive perspective works. You see enough goodness flowing between you that it washes annoyances away.

In many ways, perspective in a relationship works like a bank account. If your balance is in the black and there is a reliable flow of revenue, ordinary “annoyances” like service charges, interest and surprise expenses are taken in stride. But if you are in the red, those same charges can seem beyond bearable and it quickly becomes difficult to see your way forward.

If you feel as though you simply can’t do anything right, if small things seem to generate disproportionate amounts of irritability, or if you notice that you feel short tempered with your partner most of the time, you may have developed a negative sentiment or perspective. If that’s the case, your relationship may be on thin ice.

“How do get this ‘Positive Perspective’” my sister wanted to know? Much like a bank account, in order to stay “in the black”, you have to keep making deposits. Interestingly enough, the best time to do this is when you are already there. You know the age old proverb “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of medicine”. It’s never more true than in your most significant relationship. Here are a few things you can do to make deposits today

* Make up a new pet name for your partner like “human dynamo”  or “my hummingbird”. Be creative and even sappy.
* Make it a point every day to give at least one genuine appreciation for something your partner did. Focus on what your partner is adding to your life.
* Make it a point every day to touch your partner (verbally and physically) in a purely affectionate manner.
* Hire a babysitter and go on a date.
* Be deliberate about having at least one grateful and positive thought about your partner each day.

Our chatting continued and I could tell my sister was intrigued by what I was saying, but she still had more questions. “What if you have negative perspective, can you ever turn that around?” The short answer is “Absolutely!” In fact, almost every couple goes through periods of negative perspective in their relationship. Affection seem to wane, irritability is up, and there seems to be precious little real connecting going on. That’s when it’s time to cash a reality cheque and deal with the issues. Successful couples have learned to cycle out of negative sentiment early before relational “interest” starts to pile up and the emotional bank account dips deeply into the red. If this is where you find your relationship, it may difficult to work your way out of it without professional support, but you can start to turn the tide by making regular and small deposits today. Why not give it a try and see what happens. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain!

Couples Workshop