Whenever I see magazine articles, read blog posts, or hear radio stories about “spicing up your marriage” or “changing things up in your relationship,” I honestly want to barf. Don’t get me wrong, some of the tips included in these pieces are actually good ideas and helpful for increasing intimacy; however, the idea that your relationship has become humdrum and needs to be revamped is destructive – and there’s research to prove it.
Dr. John and Julie Gottman have been studying marriage and couples for over 30 years, and in that work have been able to identify characteristics of couples with successful relationships versus those that get divorced. Gottman discusses what he refers to as a “simple truth,” that happy marriages are based on a deep friendship. Friendship encompasses a mutual respect and enjoyment of each other’s company. These couples know each other at a deep level, and have understanding of one another’s likes, dislikes, quirks, hopes, and dreams.
Many people think about long term relationships and lasting marriages as becoming boring, hence the need to spice things up. What’s exciting about having a predictable routine, going to work, taking care of kids, cleaning the house, going to the grocery store, etc.? What’s romantic about doing those activities? Don’t we need to go on a vacation or give a big gift to reignite our flames?
True friends and partners show each other fondness not just in big ways, such as vacations and special events, but in little ways every day. There is a role for big gestures in your relationship, and those things are important for nurturing your intimacy. I’m not discounting what you do to “spice up your marriage.” I’m encouraging you to become more aware of the amazing things you’re doing everyday to build the foundation for a great relationship.
Why are these little things so important for creating and maintaining an incredible relationship? There’s nothing amazing about the mundane routine of life. But let’s make a quick list of all the ways your actions are contributing to your friendship.
You wake up, look at your partner, smile, and say good morning (that’s two positive interactions – smiling and saying good morning). You tease one another about needing to brush your teeth or get moving for the day (1-2 more). You work together to get your kids up (let’s say 3 times of helping one another, and at least 5 interactions of smiling, touching one another, joking, checking in on what’s happening, validating, or providing support). You have a family ritual for goodbyes (1 more) and you kiss each other when parting ways (1 more). You wish each other a great day, make eye contact, and smile (3). So, you’ve barely started your day, and we can already think of at least 17 ways you’re positively contributing to your relationship – probably more if we got into more detail. See what I mean when I say this is powerful stuff?
Friendship is the best way to protect against ill feelings towards your partner. The Gottman’s research shows that successful couples are not without conflict, and in fact argue as much as couples that get divorced. The difference is in how they argue (more on this in a later blog post). Having that strong foundation and friendship engages something called “positive sentiment override.” What this means is that the couple has built up so many positive feelings about each other that the positive outweighs the negative even in times of conflict. These couples feel good about their marriage, their future, they assume positive things about one another, and they give each other the benefit of the doubt.
Couples that have not worked on creating enjoyable interactions day to day find that when they get into a fight, they assume the worst about their partner. They start to think that their partner is doing things intentionally to annoy them, that they are miserable, that they aren’t in love anymore, or that their partner is a bad person. All interactions are interpreted negatively. There’s no accounting for situational factors, such as the person was stuck in traffic, stressed from work, or got bad news that day. Every discussion is clouded with negativity and assumptions of blame and intentionality.
Going on incredible vacations, giving lavish gifts on anniversaries, or finding new interests and ways to connect can have a positive impact on your relationship, but those things cannot replace what building a friendship and fueling your romance in your day to day lives together can do for your marriage. Is there a better feeling in the world than having someone that knows you better than you know yourself at times?
How are you going to work on your friendship with your partner this week? What can you do to increase positive interactions and be more aware that you and your partner are engaging in your friendship every day? What have you been doing already that fuels your romance? Comment below with some ideas.
If you’re ready to have a great relationship and build upon your foundation, give me a call at (832) 827-3288 for a free 20 minute phone consultation. I provide couples therapy in the Clear Lake area of Houston, Tx. We all get into fights with our partners, and at times you think you’re ready to give up because you’re sick of it. Don’t give up, fight for your marriage. I’m here to help.