Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


52 Ways to Show I Love You: Transform a Negative Experience

Many sources of distress in a couple can be transformed into positive moments.

Source: Alexas_Fotos/Pixabay

David has recently taken to cheerfully answering the phone, “Hi, did I win another free trip to the Bahamas?” Frustrated by telemarketers and scammers who intrude upon his activities, he came up with a creative way to side-step his annoyance as well as to amuse the occasional person he actually knows who may be calling him. What had been a source of negativity transforms into one that brings smiles, at least for him, even when a robot on the other end of the line guarantees that no one else is there. I smile too.

In our love relationships, how can we better transform tense and potentially negative interactions into ones filled with kindness, understanding, and love? Our efforts to accomplish this can constitute a powerful way to show love.

What needs transformation?

  • Moments that have nothing to do with us. In today’s complex world, we suffer frustrations that have nothing to do with us. Ranging from computer programs that fail to deliver their promises to weather events, today’s world constantly reminds us that we are not in control. As Yale University’s Professor Tamar Gendler has pointed out so persuasively, we are prone to react to the impact of an actual stimulus (like the frustrations of weather requiring a change of plans or an inability to buy tickets online) by attributing the reaction to something going on with a nearby target, perhaps a spouse or child or pet. According to Freud, the need is to express our frustration and anger. Nonetheless, when the target addressed becomes confused with the source of the distress, detective work concerning emotional triggers is called for.
  • Moments of misunderstanding. We all filter what we hear, grasping its meaning according to our past history with words and interactions. We have formed unconscious scripts that we expect to replay. To make matters worse, words can obfuscate as well as clarify. My touchstone on that issue came when David and I moved back to America and were looking for a home. David wanted “a big kitchen”; I wanted “a small kitchen.” We were both insistent. When we visited homes that were on the market, we realized that we were describing precisely the same kitchen.
  • Examination of our underlying beliefs themselves. Our unconscious scripts — a string of expectations of what follows from what — form barriers to innovation and transformation. Before we have language, we begin forming expectations of how the world works. Although we may change our beliefs when experience forces us to update them, they do tend to get stuck in some convenient short-hand that causes us to miss whatever is actually happening. When conflict or novelty arises, we may need to examine those assumptions with fresh and innocent eyes and be willing to revise expectations to accommodate new information. Note that this process has been widely explored throughout psychology — in artificial intelligence, behavioral economics, cognitive behavioral therapy, as well as in Tomkins’ brilliant script theory.
  • Interpretations of blame. Often one person’s expression of concern or distress, a statement about his or her state of mind or emotion, can be received as an accusation, interpreted as blaming the other person for the distress rather than attempting to articulate it and share it before generating possible solutions. Sometimes the need to put an issue on the table is just that and not an investigation of responsibility.

How do we transform a negative experience?

  • Reframing — changing perspective. In earlier posts, I addressed the importance of entertaining a different point of view and also of maintaining a focus on "the big picture." When we can perceive our situation differently, we can modify our response to it.
  • ErikaWittlieb/Pixabay
    Source: ErikaWittlieb/Pixabay

    When life brings lemons, make lemonade. Sometimes making an unexpected or difficult situation into an opportunity allows us to find a silver lining and move on. For example, the enforced quiet required after surgery provided a perfect opportunity to practice meditation. A snowed-in weekend brings families opportunities to come together in new ways, whether through working or playing together. A "no" to your invitation can provide an opportunity to become more tolerant of and flexible in responding to rejection.

  • Put a hat on your head. The simple acts of mindfully selecting and donning headgear can signal to yourself and your loved one that you are ready to “let it go” and move on. Putting a baseball cap on your head for a run after a hard day at work or a bike helmet when you know you and your loved one need to have some playtime together can interrupt the negativity of a difficult situation and allow you to reclaim important inner resources.
Source: ErikaWittlieb/Pixabay

Why does transforming a negative experience show love?

  • It acknowledges the essential impermanence of everything. Even though the moments may themselves be dark, they will not endure forever. Transformation brings hope.
  • It reminds you of your creativity. One of the best antidotes to the fear that you cannot cope is a reminder of your creative potential. When two people can indulge in creativity together, the results are usually synergistic.
  • Being able to transform the negative underscores the magnificence of love both as a source of motivation and as a resource for reinvention.

What was the last negative experience you faced? How did you confront it? In what ways was your loved one affected? How was your loved one able to help? Were you able to help a loved one transform a negative experience or situation?

Copyright 2017 Roni Beth Tower


Schank, Rodger, C.; Abelson, Robert P. (1977). Scripts, Plans, Goals, and Understanding. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Tomkins, S. (1992). Affect, Imagery, Consciousness. Vol. IV: Cognition: Duplication and Transformation of Information. New York: Springer.

More from Roni Beth Tower Ph.D., ABPP
More from Psychology Today