When David and I got married, things were Kool (...& The Gang...): We cherished every moment we had been given. We cherished the love; cherished the life; cherished the love we had. I’d go off to work in the morning, and David would sit at his desk in our living room to do his. Then I changed jobs and started working from home, too. The transition came with a Sting: Every breath he’d take, every move he’d make, I’d be watching him. Every single day, every word I’d say, he’d be watching me. We needed to do something about it before the lack of Air Supply left us with nothing left to say but goodbye.
I exaggerate. Encouragingly, we weren’t at each other’s throat despite being together 24/7. But we did learn that too much togetherness wasn’t good for the health of our marriage. It’s hard to have quality time when there’s too much quantity, and we slowly started taking each other’s presence for granted. As it turns out, when you're married it's not so much “out of sight, out of mind,” but rather “always in sight, seldom in mind.” A couple needs space to nurture their fondness and admiration for each other.
“Fondness and admiration are two of the most crucial elements in a rewarding and long-lasting romance,” writes relationship expert Dr. John Gottman. Over the course of 40 years of research involving thousands of couples, Gottman has discovered that happy marriages are not the result of idyllic unions free of conflict. Happy couples argue about the same issues that cause fights in broken marriages; the difference is that even when they fight, they experience what psychologists call “positive sentiment override.” As Gottman explains, “This means that their positive thoughts about each other and their marriage are so pervasive that they tend to supersede their negative feelings… Their positivity causes them to feel optimistic about each other and their marriage, to have positive expectations about their lives together, and to give each other the benefit of the doubt.”
Conversely, Gottman has identified Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse—negative habits and types of interaction that, if left unreined, will run a marriage straight to divorce. They are Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness, and Stonewalling. The second, Contempt, is a sense of superiority over your spouse that stems from long-simmering negative thoughts about them. It is the direct opposite of fondness and admiration; it blinds you to any good you might otherwise see in your partner.
It stands to reason to guess that most couples aren’t feeling contempt on their wedding day. Few people, I think, head to the altar thinking they will get divorced. Couples get married because they think highly of each other. But as Gottman points out “fondness and admiration can be fragile unless you remain aware of how crucial they are to the friendship that is at the core of any good marriage. By simply reminding yourself of your spouse’s positive qualities—even as you grapple with each other’s flaws—you can prevent a happy marriage from deteriorating.”
So what is the key for keeping fondness and admiration—and the positive sentiment override they bring—vibrant in your marriage? Getting in the habit of always looking for qualities you appreciate in your spouse. “When you acknowledge and openly discuss positive aspects of your partner and marriage,” writes Gottman, “your bond is strengthened.”
Keeping a robust fondness-and-admiration system in your marriage requires intentionality. You can’t afford to take each other for granted. It requires actively cherishing each other—thinking with pride about your spouse’s gifts and talents, their inner and outer beauty. “Cherishing,” explains Gottman, “is a habit of mind in which, when you are separated during the course of the day, you maximize thoughts of your partner’s positive qualities and minimize thoughts of negative ones. This active focusing on your partner’s merits allows you to nurture gratefulness for what you have instead of resenting what is missing. Many couples do not realize that they are neglecting to cherish each other.”
Spending all day together was a threat to David and me even if we didn’t see it at first. We weren’t fighting, and we weren’t growing contemptuous, but we were becoming complacent. We needed a solution, and lucky for us, a friend offered it: He’s letting me use an office he had vacant. Now we’re not only both more productive at our jobs, but we have the space to think of each other, to look forward to each other’s company at the end of the day. And because I can’t end this post without Madonna, I can now say I cherish the joy David keeps bringing into my life; and perish the thought of ever leaving, I never would.
Photo by Amy Sept used with permission through Flickr Creative Commons.
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