Optimists and Pessimists: Balanced Pairing or Relationship Nightmare? A Relationship Coach Weighs In
The couple’s ‘golden retriever boyfriend and black cat girlfriend’ relationship trope played out hilariously on camera, and despite their opposing outlooks on life, they balanced each other out. April, ever the pessimist, helped keep Andy grounded in reality. Optimist Andy, on the other hand, helped April see the silver linings in times of stress (remember when she accidentally deleted every file on the parks and recreation server?).
How well does this relationship dynamic play out IRL, though? Can optimists and pessimists get along romantically off-script?
Why an optimist and a pessimist can work in a relationship
According to sex therapist, couples counselor, and relationship coach Lyndsey Murray, LPC, they absolutely can.
The Relationship Matters Therapy founder says that optimists and pessimists can offer new, valuable perspectives to their partners and help each other make well-informed decisions.
“They can bring out the best in each other in a unique way,” says Murray. “Sometimes optimists can be overly optimistic, and maybe aren’t noticing the pitfalls of their plan. This is where a pessimist can bring them back down to reality a bit.”
Alternatively, Murray says, optimists can reassure pessimists that a sticky situation isn’t exactly the end of the world.
The balance optimists and pessimists need to strike in relationships
The optimist-and-pessimist relationship dynamic is a delicate balancing act. Trouble, Murray says, can arise when one partner persistently challenges the other’s concerns or sources of happiness.
“Whenever someone's pessimism or optimism feels like a dismissal of the other person, that's where it can feel toxic or draining,” says Murray.
Optimists need to avoid toxic positivity
Optimists prefer to always see the good in bad situations and offer silver linings to loved ones going through a hard time. While this is commendable, telling your partner to look on the bright side of a crappy situation can minimize their feelings if you lack empathy and awareness.
“Toxic positivity can make you feel ashamed of feeling bad about something,” says Murray. “The message is that you shouldn't feel bad, that you need to get over it. If that's always the dynamic, the person who's more pessimistic is eventually going to stop coming to you.”
Being mindful of what your partner is asking for in a moment of need—advice or just an ear to listen—can help you ensure they feel seen when they turn to your for help or comfort.
Pessimists need to steer clear of defeatism
Frankly, nobody likes a party pooper. Pessimists tend to dwell on the negative “what ifs” of a future event. This sense of foreboding can bring an optimist down, especially when they’re excited about an upcoming event, says Murray. So pessimists need to mindful that they aren’t treading into persistent defeatism territory—belief that things will take a turn for the worse—which can feel like a dismissal of the optimistic partner’s joy.
“Let's say an optimist is really excited for something, and a pessimist doesn't share that excitement, like at all,” says Murray. “They come to the table with all the reasons why it’s a bad idea, why it's not gonna work. That can feel very dismissive.”
Unless your optimistic partner asks for your advice, specifically asks you to help them see any potential downsides of what they’re doing, or is somehow in harm’s way—it’s best to keep your reservations to yourself and let them have their fun.
What optimists and pessimists need in Order to thrive in a relationship
According to Murray, fostering a happy, healthy relationship between an optimist and a pessimist can be made easier by establishing the following two habits.
1. Get curious about the other person’s perspective
You may never share your partner’s opinion on whether the glass is half full or half empty, and that’s okay. Murray says you can still reach a place of mutual respect and understanding.
To do this, Murray advises optimists and pessimists to put on their detective hats and “get curious” about their partner’s POV.
“In order to build a healthy relationship formed around mutual understanding, both parties need to be curious about why their partner thinks a certain way,” says Murray. “Ask them why. Ask them what makes them excited. Ask them about what has them feeling negatively. You don't necessarily have to agree, and that’s fine. But if you're curious, it tells your partner that you're at least interested in what they have to say. And that interest is a key to a long lasting relationship for anyone.”
2. Build emotional trust
Establishing mutual understanding of each other’s worldview can strengthen the trust between an optimist and pessimist. Showing that you’re interested in the “why” behind their perspectives shows your partner that their thoughts and feelings will be listened to and validated. This kind of emotional trust, Murray says, is crucial for a long relationship between an optimist and a pessimist.
This trust, says Murray, can help and optimist and a pessimist feel united—even when they butt heads.
“It feels like this person is on my side,” says Murray, “and they've got my back.”
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