Cultivating a Culture of Appreciation in Your Relationship

“In relationships you need a habit of mind that scans the world for things to appreciate rather than things to criticize”

John Gottman


Have you ever been critical of your partner? Sometimes more often that you’d like to admit? Don’t worry! There are no judgments being passed on here. We’ve all engaged in this. It happens to the best of us.

Honestly, it probably feels so easy for you to do and you find yourself time and time again falling into the trap. Maybe you’ve even felt bad about the way you criticized your partner, despite the belief that your feelings were justified. And it likely was.

However, I wonder what would happen if you were to try paying more attention to what common criticisms you use with your partner. Is it about their behavior or is about their character? It’s important that you become more aware of what your criticisms are really about.

Take an honest assessment of how frequently you’re criticizing your significant other. Couples often fall into patterns of interactions that predict the way they relate to each other. Overtime, frequent negative interactions create an environment that sends partners into a state of negative sentiment override. When one or both partners are in negative sentiment override, criticisms are routinely used as a way to bring up problems. Whichever partner is in this state begins to expect criticism whenever an issue is raised, even when the issue is being raised gently and without criticism. It’s said that perception is everything, right?

Changing these interactions slightly can have a dramatic and positive effect on the relationship over time. Because it takes a long time for negative sentiment override to develop, this means it can take some time to repair as well. In other words, you’ll need to be patient.

Here’s an example. A wife who has often criticized her partner for being lazy comes home from work to a sink full of dirty dishes. She previously asked her husband to help with the kitchen chores since he was expected to arrive home before her. She attempts to ask him why the sink was still full and he responds with defensiveness and an argument ensues. She wasn’t upset or even being critical, but his state of negative sentiment overrides any neutral interaction that occurred. He’s likely more hypervigilant and perceives most interactions with his partner as negative.

Negative sentiments cause partners to override any positive feelings about one another so they often hear or see negativity in whatever their partner says or does, even when their partner says something neutral or positive.

What kind of culture have you cultivated in your own relationship? Want to create a more loving and satisfying relationship with your partner? Make a commitment today to show appreciation more often. Look for opportunities to offer praise for what your partner is doing right and express appreciation. This will help to build more positive feelings toward each other by increasing fondness and admiration. Turning more towards each other instead of away also increases positive feelings, shows interest in your partner and keeps your emotional bank account in good standing. Try to see your partner and your relationship from a positive perspective. Overtime, you’ll begin to shift from negative sentiment override to positive sentiment override. That’s a great shift and wonderful place for you and your relationship to be in.

Kerri-Anne Brown

Kerri-Anne Brown

Hi, I'm Kerri-Anne and I'm a licensed mental health counselor in Orlando, FL. I help individuals and couples who are living with fertility challenges, perinatal loss, birth trauma and difficulties with postpartum adjustments. Please feel free to reach out anytime.


  1. Amber Lewter on May 8, 2018 at 10:42 am

    Is it so true that what we focus on expands and we get more of in our reality. Great recommendations on how our focus can impact our tone and in turn our relationships!

  2. Rose on May 14, 2018 at 10:01 am

    Great article, like the focus on keeping the emotional bank full. Reminds me of the kids version “fill a bucket” and be aware of when you dip someone’s bucket.

  3. Rachel (Full Cup play therapy) on May 18, 2018 at 5:06 am

    I love this and I think it can be applied to all kinds of relationships including the ones with kids. Thanks for explaining it so well!

    • Avatar photo Kerri-Anne Brown on June 14, 2018 at 10:01 am

      Absolutely Rachel! This really does apply to all relationships.

  4. Lynn Louise Wonders on May 22, 2018 at 7:11 am

    One of my favorite parts of training with the Gottmans was learning about the culture of appreciation. I’ve seen relationships transformed with this practice just as you explain in this article! Thanks for putting this concept out there and I hope lot of people will read this and start practicing it!

  5. Kim Martinez/True North Counseling Services on June 4, 2018 at 11:40 am

    Great! Focus on the positive

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