One Thing Some Don't Do That Damages Their Relationship
Couples who savor together are more likely to stay together.
Posted Aug 30, 2018
Labor Day Weekend is commonly considered the unofficial end of the summer season. For many of us, it means back-to-school for our children and a return to a more regimented schedule. We often reconnect with friends we haven’t seen over the last few months and share stories. Looking back fondly on our summer and savoring the joyous moments with our friends builds stronger bonds. Sharing these experiences also enables us to relive those positive emotions again. It’s like compound interest!
Imagine now if we took the time to savor the everyday positive moments in our romantic relationship as well and shared them with our spouse or partner, rather than just letting them pass on by. What if we specifically focused on what intrigues us about our loved one, rather than what annoys us? What would that mean for our relationship? And how much better would that make us both feel?
How come it seems much easier to notice what’s wrong rather than what’s right with our partner? And why do we dwell more on the bad times, rather than celebrating the good times?
Perhaps, it’s because problems tend to scream at us, whereas opportunities whisper.
We usually know when we have a problem, because problems tend to scream at us and beg for attention. We often react immediately out of a need to take care of them right away. In contrast, opportunities and positive moments just whisper and often fade into the background. Even though good things tend to happen to us three times more than bad things, according to one study, we often tend to focus more on the negative things. This explains how we likely forget about the many good things in our lives and in our relationships. We often miss many subtle and beautiful opportunities to act.
What if instead of letting these small, wondrous moments slip by, we focused on noticing, acknowledging and appreciating them, rather than waiting for the momentous? It can make a monumental difference in our romantic lives, according to leading research on the psychological concept of savoring as well as what we learned from talking to real-life couples.
Researchers Fred Bryant and Joseph Veroff found that savoring may be more effective at expressing love to our romantic partner than a variety of other means for doing so, such as helping out with chores or giving gifts. When couples savor their love and communicate it to each other they experience a feeling of being deeply cared for and respected, or what Bryant and Veroff refer to as affectively affirmed. Married couples who feel affirmed by their spouses report having more thriving marriages.
Let’s take a look at two relationships that we detail in our book Happy Together: Ursula and Joe, and Tonya and Marco. Both couples in long-term relationships for more than 20 years. One relationship is still going strong and one fell apart.
Ursula & Joe
Ursula told us that during their twenty plus years of marriage her husband Joe has continued to savor their relationship, valuing it like he did on the very day he proposed to her. Whether it’s whispering sweet thing in her ear, sending her sexy texts, or spontaneously embracing her in the kitchen, he continues to show his love for her. He regularly tells her how happy he is to have her as his wife. And the savoring is reciprocal. Ursula expresses her joy for having Joe in her life as well.
Tonya & Marco
In contrast to Ursula and Joe, Tonya only recalled two times in their entire marriage where Marco expressed his appreciation for her. Rarely did Marco touch her, compliment her, tell her he loved her, or express how much he savored their relationship. Tonya felt like she was withering and eventually left the marriage to the utter surprise of Marco who couldn’t comprehend what he did to cause her to leave. “What could possibly have been so awful?,” he inquired. While there weren’t any affairs or big fights there was a slow boil over the years that caused irreparable damage to the relationship, Tonya told us.
Act of Omission vs. Commission–Importance of Being Proactive
What’s the difference between the two relationships above? The one that fell apart wasn’t based on anything the partner did. No big fights, affairs, or major problems. Rather, as one partner tells us, it’s what he didn’t do. In interviewing couples over the years we found it’s often an act of omission, rather than an act of commission for what caused the relationship to unravel.
It’s commonly said that as we age and look back on our life that we rarely regret what we did but rather regret what we didn’t do. Missed opportunities. Perhaps opportunities to reach out, connect, and express our love. Let’s not end up regretting these things like Marco did. As his ex-wife said, once he realized what he didn’t do it was too little and too late for them to reconcile.
Savoring appears to be a powerful way to build a stronger and more satisfying romantic relationship. So why not start practicing it in your relationship today. The next time you’re tempted to let something good your spouse did slip by, stop to acknowledge it, focus your attention completely on your partner, and express to him or her what you see. Make savoring experiences together a habit and discover the positive impact it’s likely to have on your relationship over time.
Pileggi Pawelski, S. & Pawelski, J. (2018) Happy Together: Using the Science of Positive Psychology to Build Love That Lasts. New York: TarcherPerigee.