There is a popular funny YouTube video by the Eh Family depicting how couples brush their teeth before and after marriage. Before marriage they are both the picture of perfection to each other with dreamy music playing in the background they gaze at each other with love and admiration and the boyfriend spontaneously produces a rose to offer to his girlfriend and she accepts while gazing at him lovingly. After marriage we find the same couple brushing their teeth in their robes, looking unkempt, tired, and making loud gagging noises barely noticing each other.
We watch this video and laugh - as we laugh at so many other jokes and comedic skits that poke fun at how full of fondness and admiration couples are at the beginning of their relationship and how this shifts into something quite different than fondness and admiration with time. The famous one liner by Henry Youngman, “Take my wife -- Please!”. Or Wanda Skyes skit entitled “Till Death Do Us Part” where she describes that the problem with being married for life in modern times is people live too long now and goes on to reflect that you stay together until one day you look over and say, “I see you got up today. You should start smoking.” Is there an inverse relationship between time married and the level of fondness or admiration you have for your spouse? Is the loss of fondness and admiration for your partner an inevitable part of marriage?
When my wife and I were receiving pre marriage counseling, one of the points we reviewed and discussed was that it was possible to deepen fondness and admiration throughout your marriage rather than letting it dissipate over time. Is fondness and admiration something we can really control? Or perhaps it is just part of the euphoria of “being in love” and it is bound to leave us over time.
The truth is fondness and admiration is one of the key factors that distinguishes happily married couples with those that end up in divorce or in an unhappy marriage. Marriage research also backs that it is possible to cultivate fondness and admiration over time. In direct contrast research also shows that contempt, sarcasm, and disrespect are some of the most potent predictors of unhappiness and divorce in marriages. So while the jokes and skits related to marriage may be funny, if you find that your marriage lacks fondness and admiration - it is no laughing matter. It is for this reason that we spend an entire module in our marriage course/workshop on how to cultivate and sustain fondness and admiration. Cultivating fondness and admiration in a relationship is a key aspect for maintaining a strong friendship.
So how can we cultivate fondness and admiration over time and strengthen our friendship with our partner? The short answer is appreciation! The good news is that appreciation is a habit of the mind. In other words, we can train our mind to appreciate the positive aspects of another person through gratitude practices. You may be wondering if a gratitude practice may lead to a Pollyannaish or overly optimistic view of your partner. Chances are that it will not and if anything it will improve the accuracy of our perception. In one study among couples that were unhappily married, they missed approximately half of the positive gesture that their partners made. In comparison couples that were happily married were more accurate in noticing the positive gestures their partners made towards them. It is as if many of us have a chip on our shoulder that predisposes us to noticing mostly the negative and being blind to the positive actions of our partner. No wonder fondness and admiration so often dissipates over time.
To start here are three tips you can try to increase fondness and admiration and improve your friendship with your partner.
Tip 1: Get into the practice of writing your partner love letters. In these letters describe the qualities that you appreciate about them and offer examples of how they have demonstrated these qualities in your relationship. Perhaps you can time these letters with special occasions including anniversaries, birthdays, or just for the hell of it.
Tip 2: Start a gratitude practice and include your spouse as part of it. Gratitude is a habit of the mind and practicing it on a regular basis can help train our minds in experiencing the world and others with gratitude. One great way to start this practice is to write about one thing you appreciate about your partner for the next 7 weeks at least 5 days a week.
Tip 3: Avoid using contemptuous sarcasm or disrespect words or gestures. One of the four horsemen of the apocalypse when it comes to marriage is contempt and it is also the most powerful predictor of divorce. Do not tell your spouse they should take up smoking!
What do you want your marriage to be like in 5 years? Do you want it to be filled with fondness and admiration? Couples can be proactive in cultivating and sustaining these most important attributes into their marriage.
Bonus tip: On a side note I encourage you to watch the “Brushing Bloopers” at the end of the Eh Family video. Humor and making each other laugh is a great way to cultivate fondness for each other.
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