Relationship Minute: Nice or neutral?

You’ve probably heard the old adage, “Nice or neutral, never nasty,” as advice for how to treat other people. But the reality is that even “neutral” can be invalidating and erode trust.

When responding to a bid, for example, you can turn towards, turn away, or turn against. We advise couples to turn towards as often as possible, rather than away or against. Neutrality, in response to a loved one expressing pain, is a form of turning away and can be even more devastating to the relationship than turning against.

Turning against is at the very least being clear and offering an opportunity for continued engagement and repair. Turning away is silence.

Neutrality in the face of conflict sends the message that your comfort or being right/”polite” is more important than an acknowledgment of the feelings being expressed. And that is a betrayal.

Why not say, “I am on your side”? What do you stand to lose if you stand with your partner? Brené Brown’s Engaged Feedback checklist suggests, “I know I’m ready to give feedback when…I’m ready to sit next to you rather than across from you.” Can you relinquish a “neutral” stance in order to really engage?

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The Relationship Minute is from The Gottman Institute. You can sign up here to get it delivered to your inbox every Tuesday and Thursday morning.