Relationship Minute: Good vs evil

Some of the most-loved movies tell epic tales of the battle between good and evil, in which a relatable hero (“the good guy”) fights against a despicable villain (“the bad guy”).

Often it serves the story best if these characters lack nuance. We can’t always dig into the fear or trauma history that might be driving the villain’s decision-making, for example. It wouldn’t serve the central narrative of the Star Wars franchise to include any scenes of Emperor Palpatine in individual therapy.

But when you cast yourself and your partner in the roles of hero and villain, you rob yourself and your relationship’s story of much-needed nuance and clarity. As uncomfortable as it may be, embracing ambiguity may be the way forward.

If you find yourself casting your partner as the villain, it may be due to Negative Sentiment Override (NSO). NSO prevents you from giving someone the benefit of the doubt, and even causes you to perceive otherwise objective or uncharged actions as negative.

Let’s say your partner doesn’t respond to your text with their usual promptness. What story do you create around that (“They’re ignoring me on purpose,” “They’re mad at me. I did something wrong,” or, “Their phone must be off,”)? Do you make assumptions and go with them or do you check in about that story?

When you view your partner, or anyone you love, from a binary perspective, it forces them to tip into the role of “all good” or “all bad,” when in reality, nobody is just one thing.

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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.