Today we focus on John Gottman’s Principle 2 in The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. Knowing and understanding your partner is important, but happily married couples go farther; they SHOW their fondness and admiration. None of us is perfect, but energy really does follow attention. You can focus on the negative qualities or idiosyncrasies of your partner or on the positive qualities.
John Gottman shares some research in this area:
“Sometimes couples resist searching for and expressing gratitude for their spouse’s positive behaviour because, they tell me, doing so feels “phony” to them. But developing a positive habit doesn’t “sugarcoat” a relationship. Instead it resets it to a more realistic perspective. Just knowing this can make all the difference for couples who are feeling pessimistic about their partner and marriage.
Research by Elizabeth Robinson and Gail Price brings home this happy truth. They had objective, trained observers count how many positive acts they witnessed between a couple during the course of an evening. They then asked the spouses themselves to tally their positive interactions. When the researchers compared the scores the couple gave themselves with those of the objective observers, they discovered that couples who described themselves as unhappily married only noticed half of the positive interactions that actually occurred. Because they were so used to tuning in to their partner’s mistakes, they each missed a full 50 percent of their partner’s positive actions.” (p. 72)
Fondness and Admiration Questionnaire
He then has readers complete a Fondness and Admiration Questionnaire to get a sense of their own “fondness and admiration system”. Of the 20 questions, 10 or higher true answers is good, below 10, not so good. What struck me was his assertion of how important fondness and admiration are for a relationship.
He states: “They are crucial to the long-term happiness of a relationship because they prevent contempt – one of the marriage killing four horseman – from becoming an overwhelming presence in your life. Contempt is a corrosive that, over time, breaks down the bond between husband and wife. The better in touch you are with your deep-seated positive feelings for each other, the less likely that you will act with contempt toward your spouse when you have a difference of opinion.” (p. 74)
4 Exercises to Help Rebuild Fondness and Admiration
There are four exercises to help rebuild fondness and admiration.
The first exercise is a list of about 60 statements of appreciation from which he has each partner pick 5 and share. The list can help couples rediscover something they had misplaced.
A second and longer exercise is geared towards helping couples recall why they connected in the first place: Part one – Your History and Part two – Your Philosophy of Marriage. Often just recalling their history can recharge a relationship.
Cherishing Your Partner. Cherishing 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.
And the final exercise is – A Seven Week Course in Fondness and Admiration. The key here is to do the exercise every day whether you feel like it or not. Again, people can say it feels “phony” if I don’t feel like doing it. I counter by saying: as humans we feel, we think and we act. Then ask: do you always feel like going to work? Often the answer is no, but generally folks do go because they know they will be fired or they have bills to pay. They don’t feel like going to work, but they think about it and act; they go. But when it comes to their partner, if they don’t feel very connected they don’t act.
We know from neuroscience that the brain is more malleable than we thought even 20 years ago. We can switch channels much like switching TV channels. If you catch yourself focusing on a negative trait of your partner, consciously shift your thinking to a positive trait. Over time the brain will develop new neural pathways and begin to see your partner in a more positive light (which it did, after all, in the romantic love stage of the relationship). The new behaviours will become as automatic as the old but the outcome is pleasure, not pain.
Gottman concludes this chapter by saying: “By the end of the seven weeks, you’re likely to find that your perspective on your partner and your marriage is far sunnier. Singing each other’s praises can only benefit your marriage. But in order to ensure that the gains continue, you need to put your respect and affection to work. In the next chapter, you’ll do just that, by using them as the foundation for revamping – or reviving – your marriage’s sense of romance.” (p. 85/85) Principle #3: Turn Toward Each Other Instead of Away.