21 Oct Fanning the Flames
by Laura Friend
A few weeks back I sat in my sister-in-law’s living room enjoying the company of extended family. My nephew and his wife sat close together, holding hands, and radiating that, “young couple in love” feel, which brought a smile to my face. My husband came and sat next to me, or rather, half sat next to me, half sat on me, as he squeezed in next to me and my sister-in-law. I was happy he wanted to sit next to me, but soon I was very warm and felt a migraine coming on. Finally, I couldn’t stand it any longer and blurted out, “OK, you’ve got to move…you’re making my headache worse!” My husband jumped up and moved to the couch right beside me and sat down, which caused my sister-in-law to laugh. She pointed out, “Oh, my, the difference we see after several years of marriage. On one hand we have the young married couple all cute and holding hands. On the other hand, we have the older married couple who have no qualms about needing, and requesting, space!” We all got a good chuckle over her very correct observation.
As we drove home that evening I reflected on this experience and decided that maybe I needed to make a few changes. I thought of the advice of researcher and author, John Gottman, in his book, “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work,” to be tolerant of each other’s faults (something I’m not always good at) and to “fan the flames” of your relationship by enhancing your “fondness and admiration” for each other. One way to do that is to think back on when you met your spouse and remember the feelings you had back then.
My husband did this one Sunday when we returned home from church. In one of his meetings, the men were discussing marriage and someone asked how he met me. As he spoke of our first meeting I saw the warmth in his eyes. We sat and reminisced on some of the special aspects of our meeting and first few dates together. I found myself experiencing those familiar feelings of tenderness towards him and sought to reclaim those on a permanent basis. I chose in that moment to make a concerted effort to focus on his good qualities. I chose to begin focusing on finding ways to make him happy and as I did I found myself feeling happier, too. I chose to not only be in love with my husband, but to be in like with him, too. I realized if I didn’t like him, it would kill my fondness and admiration for him. Instead of feeling irritated over the quirky things he did I tried finding them endearing. I began really trying every day to make the allowances for my husband that I would so easily make for a friend.
In the process we have become better friends. It isn’t all rosy and problem-free, but the joy in our marriage has grown and I have found that with that joy has come trust. I trust that he is still the good man I married 17 years ago. I trust that he loves me and wants to be with me. Most importantly, I trust that he is faithful to me and will never leave me. If I slide into old habits, I remember to return to these basic principles…building fondness and admiration by focusing on my husband’s strengths and ignoring his weaknesses. After all, I hope each day he will do the same for me. As a seasoned married couple we still enjoy a bit of “space” between us now and then, but our marriage is strong, happy, and thriving.