No one's perfect, including you and the person you're married to. Maybe she squeezes the toothpaste from the middle or he leaves the toilet seat up. Maybe she is bull-headed and he is annoyingly indecisive. Maybe one of you is a workaholic and another spends too much money.
Despite these flaws, it's likely that deep down you believe your spouse is a good person who is worthy of honor and respect. At the heart of nearly every marriage lies this fundamental belief: that one's partner in marriage is a respectable, likeable person. Researcher John Gottman calls this a "fondness and admiration system."
Gottman has found that people who are happily married like each other.1 This probably sounds like an obvious, overly simplistic concept. But it's overlooked more often than people think. Why is it important? Because, says Gottman, couples who nurture their fondness and admiration for one another are better able to accept each other's flaws and weaknesses and prevent them from threatening their relationship. Fondness and admiration protect against feeling contempt for your spouse, a dangerous emotion that too many partners develop toward one another as the years go by. Feelings of contempt can quickly break down the bonds of friendship between husband and wife.
Take Mike and Sandy. They are very fond and respectful of each other and genuinely enjoy each other's company. But also have their differences. After work, Mike likes to come home and relax in front of the TV. Sometimes he puts his feet up on their white couch, which really bothers Sandy. What happens when Mike absentmindedly puts his feet up on the couch three nights in a row? If Sandy didn't feel fondness and admiration for Mike, she might feel contempt for his behavior and disgust at what seems like lack of respect for her. She might insult his personality ("You are such a slob!") or belittle him ("Can't you follow a simple request? I've told you a million times not to put your feet on the couch!"). Instead, Sandy moves Mike's feet off the couch as a gentle reminder. Because they have developed strong feelings of fondness and admiration, mistakes and disagreements are not enough to bring contempt between them.
According to Gottman, even the most troubled marriages are salvageable if a tiny ember of fondness and admiration remains between husband and wife. The trick is to uncover that ember and fan it gently into a flame.1
Here are ideas to help you revive and nurture your fondness and admiration for each other:
- List each other's your positive qualities. List as many things as you can think of. (Is he or she intelligent, witty, organized, creative, attractive, relaxed?) For each quality you list, think of a specific incident when your spouse displayed that quality. Write it down. Share your lists with each other.
- Talk about your history. In Gottman's1 studies, many couples rekindled their fondness and admiration by recalling happy events of their past. He also found that 94% of couples who have positive memories of their history together are likely to have a happy future.
- How did you meet? What were your first impressions of each other?
- What do you remember about the time you were dating? What were your favorite things to do or places to go together?
- How did you decide to get married? How did you know your spouse was the person you wanted to spend the rest of your life with? Was it an easy or hard decision?
- What do you remember about your wedding? Your honeymoon?
- How was your first year of marriage? What things did you have to adjust to as newlyweds?
- Looking back, what moments stand out as the happiest times in your marriage?
- What moments stand out as difficult times in your marriage? How did you get through those hard times? Why did you stay together despite them?
- Answer the following questions together, inspired by one of Gottman's questionnaires. (If it would help, invite a close friend or family member to act as interviewer and ask you the questions.)1
- Practice positive thinking. Thinking positively might seem simplistic, but researchers have found it to be a powerful tool for overcoming depression. Gottman1 found it equally useful for overcoming negativity and hopelessness in troubled marriages. Some ideas about how to think positively about your marriage include:
- Each day when you wake up, think one positive thought about your spouse, such as a trait you admire, a talent, something you especially like about him or her, a feature of your relationship that you like, etc. If this is difficult, try thinking of something positive your spouse has done.
- Write down your thought on a piece of paper. Put it in a place where you'll see it and think of it during the day, such as in your pocket, on your car dashboard, or on your desk.
- During the day, especially when you and your spouse are apart, repeat the thought silently to yourself.
- Do this with a different thought at least five days a week for at least two weeks.
As you rehearse positive thoughts about your spouse, positive feelings about him or her will begin to come more naturally. It will be easier to see the good things in your marriage.
Written by Megan Northrup, Research Assistant, and edited by Stephen F. Duncan, Professor, School of Family Life, Brigham Young University.
- Gottman, J. M. (1999). The seven principles for making marriage work. New York: Crown.
The Family: A Proclamation to the World reminds us that "Husband and wife have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other". Within marriage, a couple's love for each other is strengthened when they have a strong foundation of fondness and admiration for each other. Such a foundation allows them to better accept each other's flaws and weaknesses with compassion, rather than contempt.2 President James E. Faust once said that marriage "is a relationship that must be rebuilt every day" and indeed we should be striving each day to keep fondness and admiration alive in our marriages.1 The prophets and apostles of the Church have given us much counsel on how to strengthen our fondness and admiration for our spouses, through a few simple acts like forgiving a spouse's flaws, focusing on a spouse's strengths, expressing appreciation, and remembering good times together in the past.
Be Forgiving of Flaws
No one is perfect, and each of us has our flaws. However, as President Russell M. Nelson reminds us, perfection is not required in a marriage: "An ideal marriage is a true partnership between two imperfect people, each striving to complement the other, to keep the commandments, and to do the will of the Lord".5 In addition to our weaknesses, each of us has our strengths too. When couples focus on one another's strengths instead of their weaknesses, it is easier to have compassion and understanding when disagreements do arise or when mistakes are made.
President Gordon B. Hinckley has said:
The cure for most marital troubles does not lie in divorce. It lies in repentance and forgiveness, in expressions of kindness and concern. It is to be found in application of the Golden Rule...We can look for and recognize the divine nature in one another, which comes to us as children of our Father in Heaven. We can live together in the God-given pattern of marriage in accomplishing that of which we are capable if we will exercise discipline of self and refrain from trying to discipline our companion.4
Focus on Strengths
In our day to day lives, we should seek to notice our spouses' strengths rather than their weaknesses. As we make a habit of focusing on the positive aspects of our spouses, it becomes easier to think of our spouses in a positive, loving light. On this subject, President Hinckley has said:
Companionship in marriage is prone to become commonplace and even dull. I know of no more certain way to keep it on a lofty and inspiring plane than for a man occasionally to reflect upon the fact that the help-meet who stands at his side is a daughter of God, engaged with Him in the great creative process of bringing to pass His eternal purposes. I know of no more effective way for a woman to keep ever radiant the love for her husband than for her to look for and emphasize the godly qualities that are a part of every son of our Father and that can be evoked when there is respect and admiration and encouragement. The very processes of such actions will cultivate a constantly rewarding appreciation for one another.3
The Proclamation reminds us that each of us "is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny". When we strive to keep this in mind in our marriages, we remember to treat our spouses with kindness and respect.
When we notice our spouses' strengths and the good they do in our lives, we should not hesitate to express our appreciation for these traits and deeds. President Russell M. Nelson has counseled:
Toappreciateto say "I love you" and "thank you" is not difficult. But these expressions of love and appreciations do more than acknowledge a kind thought or deed. They are signs of sweet civility. As grateful partners look for the good in each other and sincerely pay compliments to one another, wives and husbands will strive to become the persons described in those compliments.5
Remember the Good Times
Revisiting happy times together in the past helps couples remember why they are fond of each other. Talk together about times such as when you met, your courtship, your wedding day, the birth of your first child, or the birth of your first grandchild.
President Deiter F. Uchtdorf's fondness for his wife is evident as he recalls his first impression of her:
One Sunday the missionaries brought a new family to our meetings whom I hadn't seen before. It was a mother with two beautiful daughters. I thought that these missionaries were doing a very, very good job. I particularly took notice of the one daughter with gorgeous dark hair and large brown eyes. Her name was Harriet, and I think I fell in love with her from the first moment I saw her.8
Joseph Smith also spoke fondly of his wife Emma. During a time when men sought to take Joseph's life and he was forced into hiding, Joseph was only able to visit his family on occasion, and then in secrecy. In speaking of one such meeting, the prophet said:
What unspeakable delight, and what transports of joy swelled in my bosom, when I took by the hand, on that night, my beloved Emma she that was my wife, even the wife of my youth, and the choice of my heart. Many were the reverberations of my mind when I contemplated for a moment the many scenes we had been called to pass through, the fatigues and the toils, the sorrows and sufferings, and the joys and consolations, from time to time, which had strewed our paths and crowned our board. Oh what a commingling of thought filled my mind for the moment, again she is here, even in the seventh trouble undaunted, firm, and unwavering|unchangeable, affectionate Emma!7
Written by Shelece McAllister, Research Assistant, and edited by Stephen F. Duncan, professor in the School of Family Life, Brigham Young University.
- Faust, J. E. (August, 2004). Fathers, mothers, marriage. Ensign, 2-7.
- Gottman, J. M. (1999) The seven principles for making marriage work. New York: Crown.
- Hinckley, G. B. (June, 1971)."Except the Lord build the house..."Ensign,71.
- Hinckley, G. B. (November, 2004).The women in our lives.Ensign, 82-85.
- Nelson, R. M. (May, 1999). Our sacred duty to honor women. Ensign, 38.
- Nelson, R. M. (May, 2006).Nurturing marriage.Ensign, 36-38.
- Top, B. L. (December, 1992)."I was with my family": Joseph Smith as husband, father, son, and brother. Tambuli,8.
- Uchtdorf, D. F. (May, 2010).Your happily ever after.Ensign,124-127.