We have been discussing how we build a strong foundation for our marriage by paying attention to our relationship. We know our spouse: their likes and dislikes, what makes them happy and sad, what happened in their past that has formed their character, what they believe and how they live what they believe. We add to that by appreciating and affirming them with both words and actions. We recognize when they reach out to us for connection. We connect in good ways as much as possible and limit the times we turn away or turn against them. All of this makes up the foundation for our healthy marriage relationship.
The honeymoon period in our relationship allows our romantic attraction and excitement to “suspend judgement and ignore and forgive things that deserve more examination.” As the honeymoon ends, we must get down to the real work of building and maintaining love.
With the wedding over, job and living arrangement changed, then pregnancy, babies, and children; we need to be proactive to keep our marriage intact. We need a positive point of view.
Gottmans define the positive perspective as, “Believing in your relationship and giving your partner the benefit of the doubt even when things go wrong. It means to assume the best intentions and to use positive emotions (like humor, interest, affection, and empathy) to de-escalate the problem when conflict occurs.”
Some of us were born optimists. We tend to look for the best in other people. Optimists are hopeful and confident about the future. But even optimists can get discouraged when they are not getting any positive feedback and affection from the one they are married to. Others are more pessimistic and must work even harder to believe in the relationship and not doubt their mate. So, we all need to take seriously the work of maintaining a positive perspective on our marriage.
It is important that we develop patterns that help us keep our fondness and admiration growing. Here are some things we can practice to build and maintain this positive perspective.
Say “thank you” often. My husband did not want to forget to say thank you for meals I cooked. So he’d even thank me when he had cooked the meal. I would laugh and say, “But you cooked it.” He’d respond, “I know, but I always want you to know I really appreciate you.” This little habit added lots of credit to his account with me.
Pay attention to what interests your spouse. I learned enough about football to enjoy watching good plays. My husband always looks at my crafts and notices the progress. We pay attention to what is important to each other.
Respond positively to your spouse’s cues for connection. A little time, attention, and connection goes a long way to making your spouse feel cherished.
Be empathetic and show you care. You cannot fix every challenge your spouse faces, but you can show you care and understand how they are affected by what is happening.
Share your joys. Find something pleasant about every day to share with your spouse.
Keep a healthy sense of humor. Don’t poke fun at your spouse with your humor. Don’t be crude or cruel in your humor. Find things you both genuinely enjoy laughing about and laugh often. Being able to see the funny side of things will come in handy to de-escalate tensions.
Talk every day! You cannot keep up-to-date on your spouse’s needs, stresses, and joys if you do not talk. You talked for hours at a time when you first fell in love. Make time every day to talk. You need it to de-stress and to support each other.
Keep and Update your rituals. Every family has rituals, the way they do things. Some of the rituals are helpful to building relationships, some cause pain and embarrassment. You and your spouse have rituals already. You may not have thought about them, but they are there. This is a good time to look at the rituals you experienced in your homes growing up and the rituals you have now. Talking about them can help you choose which ones you want to keep, which ones to discard, and what new rituals you want to start.
Time for Some Practice
Try the Rituals Exercise with your spouse. See how your relationship can be enriched by practicing good rituals and discarding bad ones.
The next lessons in this series are about conflicts. We will take a look at ways to disagree that will lead to improvement in your relationship. There are different types of disagreements and therefore different ways to deal with them so your relationship isn’t destroyed in the process. The beginning of the next section is: Conflicts and the Gentle Start-up