Perhaps you and your spouse are at an all-time low in your marriage. Maybe things have not been going well for the past few months. You've been through these highs and lows before. But this low is different. Perhaps you are not certain you want to continue being married to the person you have previously chosen for a spouse. You don't know whether to hang on as you have done in the past. This time you may be thinking it is time to let go.
Part of your decision whether or not to continue in your marital relationship may be determined by your opinion on whether or not the marriage can improve. If so, you may want to postpone your decision until later this year when Martin Seligman publishes his new book titled "Learned Optimism." Advance reviews of the book to be published by Alfred A. Knopf publishers indicate the book should be interesting for a number of reasons.Seligman suggests it generally pays to look on the bright side of life. The eminent psychologist has proved that optimists are more successful than equally talented pessimists - in business, education, sports and politics. I might add they are probably more successful in marriage as well.
Long before Michael Dukakis and George Bush won their respective primary races, Seligman accurately predicted their future wins because of their more optimistic view of the future than their colleagues also running for office. And President Bush was perceived to be more optimistic than Dukakis.
Psychologist Seligman did much of his work on optimism for Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. He developed a questionnaire to help the personnel staff sort out optimists from pessimists who wanted to work for the company. From his research, they found that optimists outsold pessimists by 20 percent the first year, and 50 percent the following years.
"The link between optimism and performance," he notes, "is basically persistence. Optimists keep at it; pessimists give up and fail, even if they have equal talent. And because optimists are always hopeful about the outcome, they tend to take more risks and try more new things."
Seligman's research indicates that optimists are made, not born. Optimism is something that is learned and not innate. Seligman and his associates try to teach people to recognize negative thoughts and then externalize and dispute them. Similarly, Norman Cousins, adjunct professor in the School of Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles, has noted, "One of the most important things in life is the need not to accept downside predictions from experts. It is true in interpersonal relationships just as it is true in business. No one knows enough to make a pronouncement of doom."
If you are at a critical transition in your marriage, you may want to pause long enough to analyze not so much your marriage, but your overall traits of optimism and pessimism.
Which you have the most of may well determine the eventual outcome of your marital relationship.
Michel de Saint-Pierre once noted: "An optimist may see a light where there is none. A pessimist always runs to blow it out." When it is finally published, let's hope Martin Seligman's "Learned Optimism" will also help married couples learn to perceive lights in darkened futures.
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