Ten seconds. It’s the amount of time it takes to climb in or out of your car on the way to work or the store. It’s the amount of time you spend every day putting on your socks or deciding on your breakfast cereal. Ten seconds is nothing. Yet, 10 seconds might be all that stands between you and a long-term and happy relationship. Impossible you say? Not if you understand the power of perception and the nature of human emotion.
Our perceptions about the world around us are what determine everything we do. You see a preview of a new TV show and you immediately determine within 30 seconds if you think it’s interesting. If you decide it’s not, you’ll likely roll your eyes every time someone makes a positive remark about it. What do they know? After all, it was so clear to you that the show was a waste of time. Our relationships aren’t much different. Every single interaction with our partners, from the first time we meet, to the hundredth time your partner tells you the same story about their high school friends, shapes our perception about them, the relationship, and to a degree ourselves.
Consider this example:
John and Jessica have been dating for two years and are seriously considering marriage. Early on in their relationship, Jessica began to get annoyed with the large amount of time John spends playing video games with his friends. There would be times where she would get blown off in favor of a video game session and it has caused conflict at several points in their relationship. Now, every time Jessica even hears John mention video games she immediately finds herself getting angry. Jessica’s perception of video games has been soured based on these experiences with John and he avoids bringing up the topic with her.
What’s described above is common in most relationships. Whether it’s video games, budgeting, sexual intimacy, or kids, we all have perceptions about things in our relationship that are marked by past negative experiences. Unfortunately, if we accumulate negative experiences with our partner, our perception often becomes clouded and negative about not just that topic but the relationship overall. What if Jessica got so angry about video games that every time she saw or talked to John she found herself getting angry? What if John became so frustrated with Jessica that he started hiding his video game use from her? Sometimes we start to view everything our partner does (regardless of the intent) as negative, stupid, or something meant to intentionally hurt us. This is the negative spiral that leads many couples to break-up or divorce. But back to that 10 seconds. Even if we understand the power of perception we often assume we are passive participants in our relational lives. Our partner does something negative…we think negative. They do something nice, we think more positive. But what if you took a proactive approach? That’s where that 10 seconds comes in.
Instead of being a passive person in your relationship who is acted upon, be proactive. Challenge yourself to spend 10 seconds each day thinking about something positive in your relationship or about your partner. This kind of positive thinking, even for 10 seconds a day, can have a huge impact on your relationship. Why? Because many times it only takes 10 seconds to remember why we love our partner. It only takes 10 seconds to remember why we wanted to (or are thinking about) spend the rest of our lives with someone. Imagine the power of beginning every single day thinking about the positives in your partner. Too many of us forget about that power; we forget about the magic and emotions that brought us together in the first place. Invite that magic back into your life by giving your partner 10 seconds of your day to remember how special they are. It might not solve the video game issue that Jessica and John are having above, but I can almost guarantee it will help them not allow it to derail their entire relationship and be in a place to resolve it.
Of course, keep in mind that this 10 second challenge will not solve more chronic or severe relationship problems. If you’re worried that your relationship might have more serious problems, take the RELATE assessment and get a comprehensive report on your relationship health.
Written by: Dr. Brian Willoughby