Accentuate the Positive

Published August 13, 1981. If you were asked to list your own personal strengths or personality assets, could you do it? Some would be able to list one or two, but the vast majority would have a difficult time doing so. Why?

In his book “More Joy in Your Marriage” Dr. Herbert Otto notes, “Our research in human potentialities indicates that fewer than 1 out of 110 persons ever take time to list the good qualities they have. When asked to enumerate both their weaknesses and strengths, most people will list approximately three times as many weaknesses as strengths.”

And our preoccupation with our personal weaknesses can affect our marriage. According to Dr. Otto, “What we think of ourselves has much to do with how we see and how we relate to others. If we see ourselves as lopsided, with more problems than strengths, we are likely to be more conscious of another person’s weaknesses than we are of his or her strengths. Our self-concept and self-perception influence the way we perceive and react to people around us.”

To help a married couple focus on their own individual strengths and become more aware of each other’s personality assets, Dr. Otto has devised an exercise called “His and Her Strengths.” Here are the directions.

Both husband and wife should take a piece of paper, and at the top write “My Strengths.” Then he or she should write down all the good things they perceive about themselves. What do I do well? What are some of my talents and abilities? Also, what strengths do others see in me? Write for 5-10 minutes but do not show your list to your spouse yet.

On the other side of the paper write “My Spouse’s Strengths.” Then do the same as you did with yourself only this time write all the good traits, characteristics, talents, and abilities that you see in your husband or wife. Write as much as you can in 5-10 minutes.

After you have both completed both lists, you should get together and decide who should be first to share. The one elected then reads aloud his or her list of their own perceived strengths. When finished the other partner should verify the comments by reading his or her thoughts about their spouse’s strengths, adding any new ones not mentioned initially.

Then the couple should reverse roles, and the other then reads his or her list of perceived strengths of the other.

It is important that both partners avoid all discussions of shortcomings or problems, either theirs or their partner’s, during this exercise. Whenever one starts to mention a weakness or inadequacy, the other should remind him or her that only strengths and potentials should be shared.

Dr. Otto concludes, “All of us rejoice when someone we care about recognizes our positive qualities or that we have done something well. It also makes us feel good if we can praise someone we love about his or her specific strengths.”

The “His and Her strengths” exercise helps couples gain a balanced awareness of their strong points and gifts. It also helps a couple to correct each other’s lopsided perceptions of the negative aspects of the relationship.

In turn, broadening recognition of your own abilities leads to increased sensitivity to the strengths and potential of your marriage partner. And as you mature in sensitivity, your marriage is strengthened.

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