The Reciprocal of Love


In my last post I talked about the 99 ‘ataboy principle.  To summarise you need to do five good things (of equal “value” to make up for one bad thing).  That’s great in principle as long as the other person doesn’t start on the reciprocity cycle.

As human beings we are built to reciprocate when some does us a favour.  But what about when someone does something “wrong”?  If they’re keeping a score card they might start doing a bad thing to match your bad thing.  Now that is speculation because there is somewhat of a moral dilemma doing research into how people might do reciprocal bad things to each other.  However, empirical evidence would suggest that exist blood-feuds, culture clashes international conflicts are grounded in a tit-for-tat of unpleasantness.

In a relationship this can all fall apart when one side doesn’t realise they’ve transgressed, thus isn’t aware they are expected to produce 5 unreciprocated positive actions.  The failure by the other party to provide a reciprocal positive action is felt to be a negative.  Now we have one party that felt it was aggrieved and expecting the 5 pieces of penance and the other who now feels wronged because their positive actions have not been returned; hence expecting 5 acts of penance from the other side.

It doesn’t take much to see how this becomes a positive feedback loop. [NOTE: The use of positive here might seem like a good thing, but when trying to control something a positive feedback loop means things get more out of control; which is a very simple way of explaining it.]  Now things can spiral out of control with each act of restitution not being responded to positively; after all it is only one of five expected; and the failure to get a positive response leads to an expectation of 5 more positive acts to make up for ANOTHER transgression.  If we keep this up then everything our partner does is assumed to be an insult (see Up Your Own RAS).

The only way to break this loop is forgiveness and a willingness to listen.  An argument, friends or a counselor are about the only ways you break this depending on how long it has been going on.  So next time you feel you’ve started down this path have that conversation, expect to be upset, be prepared to apologise and most importantly be prepared to forgive.


99 ‘ataboys

Dog with a bad conscienceThere is a saying that it takes 99 ‘ataboys to make up for one “Oh SH!T”.  Relatively modern psychology has dubbed this the “Negativity Bias”  and suggest the ratio is closer to 5 to 1.  For most of us that might come as a relief.

Unfortunately, the old saying might be closer to the truth.  The 5 to 1 ratio is about not slipping into the red on the emotional account, not earning any “brownie points”.  You need to do, or say, 5 positive things to every negative thing that you do.

Most of us probably think that’s pretty easy.  Well it should be, but what if we’re already in the dog house about something; you know, that “Oh, sh!t”?  The trouble is we’ve probably set the other person’s RAS into “see the negative in everything” mode.  So when you think you’re doing something positive they see it as something negative.  Add another 5 potential mistakes to “do something positive” list.  You might even be doing something bad by not doing something you should.

Breaking out of that cycle usually needs external intervention.  Friends and family might help, but if they’re seen (or assumed) to be favoring on side over the other then it just another bad on the list.  This is why counselling can work.  It is not a short term fix, rather a long term job to train ourselves to see the good things that people do for us rather than just the bad.

PS: On the reverse side of this is the sense of being “taken for granted”.  The good things you do for someone; shopping, cooking, washing up, pay the bills, take the kids to school; all get lost, so they don’t count against the bad things.  Well, I think there’s another post in that.

Monday’s over – Time to Agree Something

relationship contract

While the world has been pondering the loss of rock’n’roll superstars and other media personalities the dreaded Divorce Monday has slipped past quietly in the night.  Whilst the deaths, like all others, are a tragedy the reality is more people will have there lives blighted by the surge of divorces triggered by the pressures of that happy festive season.

It is tempting to moaning about the damage that has been done, but I’d like to turn to those that survived; perhaps by the skin of their teeth.  The ones left wondering whether or not they can survive until this time next year.  Perhaps this is one thing you can do to nudge your partner back into a constructive relationship.

A little tongue in cheek the thing I want to discuss are called “Free Trait Agreements”.  This is a “contract” proposed by psychologist Professor Brian Little and that I came across in an excellent book, Quiet by Susan Cain.  The book notes that often opposites attract, namely introverts and extraverts (yes, that is the correct spelling!) end up in relationships to fulfill their latent opposites.

Short and simple; make an agreement with your partner to do whatever it is they want to do and in exchange they’ll do the same for you.  An extravert might want a party every week and the introvert will look on that with dread.  Agree to go to some parties and agree to spend some time reading books, or walking on the beach.  Chances are you can find a way to blend your love languages into the whole thing.

It sounds so simple, but it involves people and we can’t make other people change.  There are numerous reasons why these will all fall down, and I dare say that many will try these too late.  That is a subject for many future posts.  Today, just go agree on something…