Are you and your partner constantly attacking each other for every little thing? Does it feel like neither of you can ever win? Even when you feel certain you didn’t do or say anything wrong, your partner has a way of confidently maintaining that you did. You might even wonder if you two even like each other anymore. You are actively considering breaking up, but you know that you two used to have the most incredible relationship, so you just wish you could somehow get back there. You want to, but you just don’t know how to save a failing relationship.
There is one crucial way to exhume your past relationship from the rubble: foster mutual fondness and admiration.
“By simply reminding yourself of your spouse’s positive qualities – even as you grapple with each other’s flaws – you can prevent a happy marriage from deteriorating [and you can often return an unhappy marriage to a happy one]. The simple reason is that fondness and admiration are antidotes for contempt” (Gottman & Silver, 2015, p. 71).
There is, however, one profoundly important caveat to the success of this approach. In order for you and your partner to save a failing relationship, you must have a functioning fondness and admiration system, meaning you must be able to search for, recall, and share aspects of each other in which you used to like, love, and respect. If there was never much of anything you and your partner ever liked, loved, and respected about each other from the outset, then your relationship will end. If that is the case, while it may be difficult to accept at this moment, the reality is that we all deserve to be in a mutually cherishing relationship with a strong friendship (which largely consists of a strong shared experience of liking, loving, and respecting each other). If this has never existed in your relationship, you deserve to find it elsewhere.
If that fondness and admiration system has existed at some point in your relationship, though, then your relationship is salvageable.
How We Know Mutual Fondness and Admiration is so Crucial to Saving Relationships
Decades of research with tens of thousands of couples reveals this incredible fact. Dr. John and Julie Gottman, two of the most prominent experts in the field of couples’ counseling and research, discovered that when couples put a positive spin on their relationship’s history and each other’s character, they are infinitely more likely to have happy, stable future than those couples who do not. Specifically, 94% of the time, these couples have a great future ahead of themselves. Additionally, the couples who are much more likely to make it and thrive are the ones who can recall their positive history and appreciation of one another with great detail and vividness.
“Having a fundamentally positive view of your spouse and your marriage is a powerful buffer when bad times hit. [When couples have] this reserve of good feeling, they do not have cataclysmic thoughts about separation and divorce each time they argue” (Gottman & Silver, 2015, p. 71). In addition to fondness, the more you and your partner maintain a sense of mutual respect for one another, you are infinitely less likely to feel and act disgusted with each other when you disagree. Mutual fondness and admiration act as a barrier to being overrun by those terrible four horseman of the apocalypse in communication (criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling).
Specific ideas for rebuilding a strong fondness and admiration system:
· Regularly scan the environment for qualities and actions you each like, love, and respect about each other. Once you identify one such quality/action, let your partner know what you’ve seen and how grateful you are for it/him/her. Also, realize that these do not have be momentous acts, but can be as simple as “thank you for doing the dishes. You know how much it helps me by taking one more thing off my already large plate.”
· “Spy” on each other. You can take the above concept even further. Pay close attention to each other when you’re doing things for yourselves or one another that you normally don’t recognize, but that are very important. For instance, perhaps your wife always washes, dries, and folds all the laundry. You may never have noticed just how time consuming and painstaking this task is, but if you were to “spy” on her as she does it, you may develop a transformed appreciation of her and her daily activities.
· Know that when we get used to tuning in to our partner’s mistakes, we miss a full 50% or more of our partner’s positive actions. Keep this in mind regularly and work towards much more often noticing the good you each do for yourselves and each other. Remember, “the better in touch you are with your deep seated positive feelings for each other, the less likely that you will act with contempt towards your spouse when you have a difference of opinion” (Gottman & Silver, 2015, p. 74).
· Remind yourselves of your hopefully positive history. Sit down and talk about those great moments from earlier on. Work to acknowledge and reflect upon the greatness that inspired you both to decide to move forward with your relationship, perhaps into marriage. This can give couples who thought their marriage was over the glimmerings of hope that lead them to struggle on to save it.
If you find yourself in a relationship teetering on the edge of constant conflict and uncertainty, there is a path to reclaiming the love and happiness you once shared.
The key to save a failing relationship lies in fostering mutual fondness and admiration, as revealed through decades of research by experts like Dr. John and Julie Gottman. This practice involves remembering and celebrating each other’s positive qualities and actions, even amidst flaws and disagreements. The journey toward a happier relationship begins with the conscious choice to honor and nurture mutual fondness and admiration. This practice serves as a shield against the corrosive forces of contempt and conflict, paving the way for a future built on shared appreciation, love, and respect.
To learn more about how couples therapy can help you and your partner, schedule a free consultation with a therapist for men or a couples therapist in California, Oregon, or Florida by calling us at 619-881-0593.