Do You Know How to Enjoy the Good Times With Your Loved One?
New research shows the benefits of taking time to savor your relationship.
Posted Apr 30, 2019
When you think about your relationship, do you focus on the problems, or do you turn your attention to the good times? Perhaps you’ve just passed your anniversary, which you and your partner celebrated with a romantic dinner. Now that it’s over, do you think more about the disagreement you two had when you chose the restaurant or about how it felt good to spend an evening with just each other? Are you now looking forward to the next opportunity you’ll have for a “date night”?
Whether it’s planning for a future relationship-building event, enjoying it in the moment, or thinking back on it with pleasure, the ability to savor the good times may very well be the key to keeping your relationship alive. The event doesn’t even have to constitute a special occasion. Maybe you find simple tasks around the home to be worthy of a good “savor.” You might enjoy doing some gardening or cooking together or even sharing your morning commute. New research shows that the main criterion of an event that can build your relationship is that it can produce positive emotions. Unlike mindfulness, which also involves focusing on a particular experience, an event that you savor has to make you happy when you either think about or experience it.
According to University of North Carolina Wilmington’s Katherine Lenger and Middle Tennessee State University’s Cameron Gordon (2019), it is an individual’s ability to savor an event that can affect the quality of that individual’s closest relationship. In other words, you bring your own personality traits, such as humility and gratitude, as tools that you can use to “cultivate and enhance” good feelings (p. 2). As an individual quality, the ability to savor can help you promote your own well-being. Even if this tendency doesn’t come naturally to you, Lenger and Gordon note that you can also learn to improve the ability to savor by feeling grateful about the good experiences in your life and by doing your best to register what’s happening in the moment so that you will be able to reflect back on it with joy in the future.
As much as savoring can help promote individual well-being, then, it should also help to foster relationship satisfaction when this approach to positive events includes your partner. In the words of Lenger and Gordon, “Couples who are able to bring full awareness to and enhance these experiences that naturally occur in a relationship, rather than letting them pass unnoticed, could benefit from a resulting “upward spiral” where a positive reciprocal cycle increases adaptive emotions and behaviors in ways that enrich and strengthen the relationship” (p. 3).
Couples who are in long-term committed relationships would be the most appropriate to test the value of savoring to promote happiness. Lenger and Gordon’s young sample of 122 college students doesn't quite fit the bill, but the findings can nevertheless set the stage for future research involving longer-term relationships. In this particular sample, although the participants were on average about 19 years old, their average relationships were about 19 months in length, and they described these relationships as committed ones. Their relationship satisfaction, as gauged by a 16-item measure, was relatively high (66 on a scale of 0 to 81), another factor that should be kept in mind when interpreting the findings.
Even with these limitations, the Lenger and Gordon study seems to be onto a potentially profitable research approach. Most intriguing was their introduction into the relationship literature of the “Savoring Beliefs Inventory.” This 24-item measure shows concretely how savoring is defined, reflecting feelings before, during, and after a relationship event. The anticipating items included, for example, “Before a good thing happens, I look forward to it in ways that give me pleasure in the present.” The present-moment items included, “When something good happens, I can make my enjoyment of it last longer by thinking or doing certain things.” Finally, the reminiscence items asked participants to rate such statements as “I enjoy looking back on happy times from my past.”
As the authors predicted, all three savoring indexes were positively related to relationship quality as measured in terms of length and satisfaction. Partitioning out these common associations, the authors next were able to determine that anticipation won out as the only predictor of relationship satisfaction. Again, keeping in mind that these were individuals and not couples, the results would suggest that if you’re able to look forward to events that you will share with your partner, you will also personally feel more satisfied. Interestingly, the findings generalized across gender in this sample consisting of 63 percent females. The only other qualification is that the study was correlational, so the authors could not rule out the possibility that people who are happier look forward to future joint events with greater excitement.
Think about how these results fit in with your own relationship experiences. Do you take the time to look forward to an event involving you and your partner? Can you put yourself into the moment, in advance, and imagine feeling happy about what you’re doing? Present experiencing and reminiscence both seem to contribute to perceived relationship satisfaction as well, based on this study’s results, so they should not be discounted if you’re seeking to tap into more positive feelings with your partner. As Lenger and Gordon note, the excitement that you infuse into savoring can start a positive cycle in which your personal happiness about the occasion infuses itself into your partner’s emotional experiences as well. Such emotional contagion can only enhance the joy that both of you experience when you're together and when you're thinking about being together.
What might be the reasons why savoring the future with your partner helps you feel better about the relationship? According to the authors, you can look forward to an event over a far longer time frame than the length of the event itself. An evening together lasts only a few hours, but you can spend weeks or possibly months planning for it. Think about the last time you bought tickets months in advance for a performance or concert to see with your partner. You’ve got all that time to imagine how great the event will be. Another reason that anticipation can be so important, particularly in a relatively new relationship, is that it suggests you are committed to your partner for the long haul. Even buying tickets for an event that’s months away implies that you’ll still be a couple when the grand night arrives. Larger-scale events carry even stronger associations with future commitments. Telling your partner that you’re excited about the two of you becoming parents someday means that you’re projecting being a couple well into the future.
To sum up, being able to conjure up pleasant images, experiences, and memories with your partner seems to be a skill worth having. Focusing on the positive seems like an excellent way to build the kind of fulfillment that will keep your relationship vital well into the future.
Lenger, K. A., & Gordon, C. L. (2019). To have and to savor: Examining the associations between savoring and relationship satisfaction. Couple and Family Psychology: Research and Practice, 8(1), 1–9. doi:10.1037/cfp0000111