According to a psychologist and relationship expert
Photo by Edward Cisneros on Unsplash
What differentiates a salvageable relationship from one that?s on its way out?
For an answer to this question, I turned to the work of renowned psychologist and relationship expert John Gottman.
Gottman has completed 12 longitudinal studies with over 3,000 couples ? some of whom he followed for 20 years.
Based on partners? interaction patterns, he?s able to predict (with over 90% accuracy) which couples will divorce and which will stay together.
He?s authored over 40 books on relationships, and the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy have recognized his substantial contribution to family therapy research.
Drawing on his extensive findings, Gottman says that if a couple still have a functioning ?fondness and admiration system,? there?s hope for their relationship.
Table of Contents1. What is a “fondness and admiration system?”2. How fondness and admiration are a “buffer” in bad times3. Practical strategies for nurturing fondness and admiration
1. What is a ?fondness and admiration system??
In his book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, Gottman defines a functioning ?fondness and admiration system? as:
?the retaining of the fundamental sense that your spouse is worthy of being respected and liked.?
As long as both people in the relationship still believe each other worthy of honor and respect, they have possible future prospects as a couple.
However, if they completely lack this crucial component, their relationship cannot be long-lasting or rewarding. They often fall into patterns of behavior which demonstrate contempt.
Licensed psychotherapist Elizabeth Jackson explains that contempt is:
??the single greatest indicator of impending divorce. It?s characterized by harsh criticism coming from a place of superiority, and includes such things as sarcasm, eye-rolling, and name-calling.?
In contrast to couples who demonstrate contempt, spouses who maintain a sense of respect for each other are less likely to act disgusted with each other when they disagree.
Moreover, the ?reserve of good feeling? they have toward the other person makes them less likely to entertain destructive thoughts about splitting up every time they argue.
Therefore, to prevent a marriage from deteriorating, Gottman advises nurturing fondness and admiration by reminding yourself of your spouse?s positive qualities ? even as you grapple with each other?s flaws.
?Fondness and admiration are antidotes for contempt,? writes Dr Randi Fredericks, Ph.D., relational psychotherapist and marriage counselor. ?If you can maintain a sincere respect for your spouse even when you have a difference of opinion, you can prevent day to day problems from becoming detrimental to your marriage.?
2. How fondness and admiration are a ?buffer? in bad times
When your relationship hits problems, it?s normal for your usual fondness and admiration to get buried under stress and anger.
However, if the pair of you can get back in touch with your deep-seated positive feelings for each other, such feelings may help save your otherwise struggling partnership.
This is because fondness and admiration encourage you to look at your relationship through an appreciative lens. They flourish when you notice the good in your partner, instead of searching for their flaws.
Licensed mental health counselor Zach Brittle says that expressing fondness and admiration is a ?friendship skill?; it puts you back in touch with the friendship at the core of your marriage. You can think of nurturing fondness and admiration as synonymous with cultivating gratitude.
According to a 2015 study of 468 married individuals published in Personal Relationships, spouses who expressed gratitude (and perceived their partner as grateful) enjoyed more stable, higher quality marriages.
This was true for both men and women. It even applied to couples who had poor problem-solving skills, supporting Gottman?s theory that ?a fundamentally positive view of your spouse and your marriage is a powerful buffer? in bad times.
3. Practical strategies for nurturing fondness and admiration
?In many couples, fondness and admiration have receded to barely detectable levels. Although it seems that the fire is out, some embers still burn. Fanning them is the crucial first step in salvaging such a marriage.?
? Dr John M. Gottman, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work
Think back to the beginning of your relationship
When you and your partner are experiencing relationship difficulties, it?s easy to lose sight of the good things that brought you together in the first place.
However, Gottman tells us that by reflecting on the past, you can often detect glimmers of positive feelings. Remembering the traits you admired in your partner at the start of your relationship can help you revive your love in the present.
Gottman?s research suggests that couples ?who can put a positive spin on their history are likely to have a happy future as well.? This is because they know they have a strong foundation on which to build.
Unfortunately, Gottman has also seen some relationships in which ?antagonism metastasizes like a virulent cancer, even going backward in time and destroying a couple?s positive memories.? If you can?t remember anything positive, even about the early days of your relationship, your love has likely dissipated for good.
However, as long as you can still recall some positive feelings, it?s worth putting in the work to unearth them, and bring them back to the surface. Their existence is a sign that your relationship is still salvageable.
Identify your partner?s positive qualities, and talk about them
Gottman?s book contains an exercise designed to help couples grow their fondness and admiration system.
The first step is to read through an extensive list of 72 positive qualities. The list is very broad, and includes adjectives such as: practical, loving, caring, affectionate, interesting, truthful, gentle, and so on.
The next step is to identify which of these qualities your partner has (Gottman advises picking three).
The final step involves sharing a specific story to illustrate how your partner demonstrates each characteristic you?ve chosen.
The ?sharing? part is especially important here. By expressing your appreciation using concrete examples, you?re not only reminding yourself why you have committed to the person in front of you ? you?re also helping your partner feel more loved.
Gottman says this exercise usually has immediate benefits. In his workshops, the effects are very visible:
?The room is filled with warm smiles and laughter. Couples who began the session stiffly and awkwardly suddenly seem relaxed. You can tell that something they had lost is being regained. The sense of hope that their marriage can be saved is almost palpable.?
Notice daily tasks you?ve been taking for granted, and say ?thank you?
Early in a relationship, we?re more likely to express praise and gratitude when our partner performs routine tasks like making a meal or putting up a shelf.
As time goes on, however, we become so accustomed to our partner doing certain things that we start to take their helpful acts for granted.
For this reason, licensed psychotherapist Elizabeth Jackson advises ?paying attention to an activity that your spouse does often, and making a point to share gratitude with them for completing the task.?
?There?s no reason not to include ?thank you? as part of your everyday vocabulary,? agrees Brittle. ?For making the bed. For passing the butter??
However, he goes on to say that thanking someone has the most powerful effect when your praise for them extends beyond what they do for you. To really touch someone with your ?thank you?, try to speak to the core of who they are as a person.
To achieve this, it?s especially helpful to supplement your ?thanks? with a compliment about your partner?s overall personality. For example:
?Thank you for your cuddles after my long day at work today. You?re such a nurturing person, and I really appreciate that about you.?
Reviving your relationship by expressing fondness and admiration is a relatively easy thing to do. Gottman says that even long-buried positive sentiments can be unearthed once more, simply by thinking and talking about them.
With that said, expressing fondness and admiration shouldn?t be exclusively reserved for troubled times. Even if your relationship is currently stable and happy, appreciating your partner out loud is always an excellent way to deepen your bond.