Did you know that 94% of the time, couples who put a positive spin on their marriage’s history and their partner’s character are likely to have a happy future as well? (Gottman, 2015).
What comes up for you when you think about your past with your partner? If you find that your happy memories are distorted or hard to recall, it’s a sign that the marriage needs help. Here in Old Saybrook, and in my online practice, I help women who are struggling to remain connected to their spouses after years of "life" have gotten in the way. Indeed, when a couple faces even normal, but very real, stressors like having children, moving, maintaining careers, and health changes, it can be all too easy to drift apart. Unfortunately, the slow drifting is hard for any couple to fully recognize until it often becomes too late and the relationship has been seriously compromised.
Maintaining a relationship that can withstand the test of time requires a basic sense of respect, fondness, admiration, and cherishing of your partner even when life together becomes extraordinarily difficult. One of the best activities anyone can do to avoid destructive actions in a marriage is to remind themselves in the most basic sense why they are fond of their partner, even when doing so feels nearly impossible!
What happens when couples are in a tough spot, or even in crisis? It’s all too common to want to rehash every last difficulty and gripe in an effort to find resolution. But while couples spend all their efforts duking out their differences, their sense of admiration and connection can dangerously diminish.
I like to use the analogy of “grass growing where you water it”. If a couple only waters the topic of all of their issues with each other, the grass of their negativity will grow. If this same couple waters the topics of examining why they care for each other, their positive affection will grow.
I’ll say it again: Instead leading to solutions, too much time fighting the same fight or examining every last thing that’s gone wrong can have the OPPOSITE effect on a couple; this can push troubled couples past the point of repair.
If your marriage is currently limping along, spending all of your time playing tug of war about the current state of affairs is not going to result in praise or positivity. But by diving into your past with your partner, it is possible to detect embers of positive feelings that can be fanned into a larger flame again. In my practice I find it crucial to strike a healthy balance between examining a couple’s problems, seeking solutions, AND actively re-kindling positive feelings and intimate connection again.
The information for today's post, and the following exercise, is from the work of John Gottman, PhD, a renowned marriage expert whose research has allowed him to predict with 91% accuracy which couples will remain happy or get divorced.
You can revive the connection with your spouse by thinking back to what brought you two together, what you used to do when you were dating, and what qualities you admired abut each other. Complete this powerful exercise with your spouse to explore your memories together and rekindle your positive connection. To do this fully, its best to carve out a few hours you will dedicate to this activity. Remember: do not use this activity to air out any gripes. This is a space to respect each other’s individual and shared memories, and to solidly revisit your connection.
Part 1: Your History
Discuss how the two of you met and got together. What were your first impressions of each other? What made your spouse stand out?
What do you remember most about beginning to date? What types of activities did you do together? What were some of the highlights?
How long did you know each other before you married? Talk about how you made the decision to marry. Was it easy or difficult? Were you in love? Of all the people in the world, what led you to decide that this was the person?
Share memories of your wedding and your honeymoon if you had one. What do you remember most?
Recall your first year of marriage. Were there any adjustments you needed to make?
What about the transition to becoming parents (if applicable)? What was this period like for each of you?
Looking back over the years, what moments stand out as really happy times in your marriage? What is a ‘good time’ for you as a couple? Has this changed over the years?
Many relationships go through periods of ups and downs. Would you say that this is true of yours? Can you describe some of these periods?
Looking back over the years, what moments stand out as the really hard times? Why do you think you stayed together? How did you get through these difficult times?
Have you stopped doing things together that once gave you pleasure? Explore these with each other.
Part 2: Your Philosophy of Marriage
Why do you think some marriages work while others don’t? Discuss two couples you know who you agree have a particularly good or bad relationship. What is the difference between these two marriages? How does yours compare to each of them?
Talk about your parents’ marriages. Would you say they were very similar to or different from your own marriage?
Draw a chart or timeline of your marriage, noting its major turning points, ups, and downs. What were the happiest times for you? For your partner? How has your marriage changed over the years?
Bonus Question (my own): What are the traditions and rituals that you established together over the years that you most cherish, value, or hold sacred?
Recalling your unique relationship history can recharge your marriage. Remembering great times that you had together, and revisiting the love and great hope that inspired your decision to marry each other in the first place, can be a powerful catalyst to softening the difficulties that may have risen up like walls around you. This activity has given couples who thought their marriage was over the sliver of hope they needed to be able to engage in the struggle to save (and improve) it.
When a couple still has some basic fondness and admiration for each other, their marriage is salvageable. While it may not be easy to revive, it can be done. With hard work over time, the marriage with tender memories and a history of strong connection can be pulled from the distant past into the present again. That marriage can be turned around.
Each time you acknowledge and openly discuss the positive aspects of your partner and your marriage, your bond is strengthened. This makes it much easier to then address the problem areas in your marriage and begin making positive changes. If you need help navigating a marital crisis, fostering positive connection with your spouse, or breaking through a recurring issue, please call me at 860-339-6515. I'm here to help!
Lauren L. Drago, MSEd, LMHC, LPC is a women's therapist and counselor, providing individual counseling in Old Saybrook, CT and online in greater CT, NY & PA. She specializes in working with smart, insightful and capable women to overcome stress, anxiety, loss of identity, self-limiting beliefs, perfectionism, marriage strain, and the pressure of "trying to do it all." Lauren has a passion for helping others to achieve the happy, fulfilling, productive, and meaningful life they deserve. She believes that every woman can and should live out her personal definition of her own best life. Call (860) 339-6515 to schedule your free initial consultation.