Each day, in celebration of the release of my latest book, When Divorce Is Not An Option: How to Heal Your Marriage and Nurture Lasting Love, I’ll look at one of the 8 habits that separates “marriage masters” from “marriage disasters.” Monday, I summarized all 8 habits and yesterday we looked at Rituals of Connection. Today, I’ll describe the second habit, Cultivating Emotional Rapport & Benevolence. After a brief explanation, you’ll have a chance to take a quiz that can help you evaluate how healthy this habit is in your marriage.
Healthy Marriage Habit #2: Emotional Rapport and Benevolence:
Why Is This important?
Galatians 6:2 says “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
Happy couples do exactly this in good times and bad times. They look for ways to take care of each other and make each other’s lives a little easier or more pleasant, especially in times of stress and disagreement between them.
In the healthiest relationships, couples exhibit a 20:1 ratio of positive to negative interactions in the course of their everyday interactions and conversations (Gottman, 2011). That can seem overwhelming on the face of it|—|as if the only thing happy couples do is dance around in a state of blissful merrymaking, showering each other with presents and loving words. Relax. That’s not the case at all. “Positive interactions” include simple acts like smiling at your partner when you walk into the room, acknowledging each other’s presence and looking into each other’s eyes when you talk, and brief touches as you walk past each other, as well as giving meaningful compliments, thoughtful tokens of affection, and being intentionally affectionate with one another.
Sometimes, it can be hard to convince couples of the incredible power these simple actions have on the overall well-being of a marriage. On more than one occasion, I have had couples challenge me by saying, “I feel like we’re paying you a lot of money just for you to tell us to be nice to each other!” It may feel that way, but there is a great deal more going on than meets the eye. Studies such as the Gottman article I referenced earlier show that, when it comes to marital health, the devil (and for that matter, the angel) is in the details. Saving your marriage, for the most part, is not about big, dramatic gestures. It is about becoming more aware and sensitive and intentionally making more positive the ten thousand times you interact with your spouse each day and currently don’t give a second thought to.
Simple actions such as the ones I just listed do two things. First, they help your mate feel cared for and valued in the moment, which draws you closer to each other and makes you actually want to be together instead of feeling like you want to flee the room every time your spouse makes an appearance. Second, these simple practices make you more likely to give each other the benefit of the doubt when you accidentally step on each other’s toes. It’s hard to take offense and react defensively to each other when you see that you are looking out for each other, happy to see each other, and trying to take care of each other thirty-eight times out of forty. If you’re working to make all those little interactions just a little more positive, it’s easier to let those other two out of forty times slide when you step on each other’s toes. We’ll discuss ways to develop this habit in chapter 5, but you can begin today just by doing the kinds of things I just identified. (And it’s okay to fake it if you don’t feel it just yet. As long as your intention is to feel it someday, that’s good enough.) Don’t expect your spouse to respond right away. It might even take a few weeks before your mate notices that there’s something different in the way you’re approaching him or her. I promise, though, if you stick with it, it will begin to make a difference.
Healthy-Marriage Habit #2: Emotional Rapport and Benevolence Quiz.
How important is developing this skill to YOUR marriage?
Answer true (T) or false (F) for each question.
T F 1. My spouse and I look for little ways to make each other’s life easier or more pleasant each day.
T F 2. My spouse and I know and understand each other well.
T F 3. My spouse and I know and understand each other’s needs.
T F 4. My spouse and I are thoughtful and sensitive to each other’s likes and dislikes.
T F 5. My spouse and I share frequent, meaningful, nonsexual, physical affection.
T F 6. My spouse and I look for little ways to support and encourage each other each day.
T F 7. My spouse and I know how to encourage each other when we feel down.
T F 8. My spouse and I find comfort in each other’s arms when we’re stressed.
T F 9. My spouse and I turn to each other for comfort when we are upset or frustrated.
T F 10. My spouse and I try to be gentle and caring toward each other even when we are frustrated or stressed.
Give yourself 1 point for each T.
You scored ______ out of a possible 10 points.
A score of 8 or higher means that maintaining Emotional Rapport and Benevolence is a real strength in your relationship.
A score of 4 through 7 means that you could significantly improve your marriage by giving greater attention to increasing your experience of Emotional Rapport and Benevolence.
A score of 3 or lower indicates that this is a critical area for improvement in your relationship.
How’d you do? Even if you feel like your marriage is, in general, in good shape, if you’d like to strengthen your ability to cultivate Emotional Rapport and Benevolence in your marriage, check out When Divorce is Not An Option: How to Heal Your Marriage and Nurture Lasting Love. Or, for more personalized assistance, contact the Pastoral Solutions Institute (740-266-6461) to learn more about our Catholic-integrated tele-counseling practice for couples, families, and individuals. Let us help you experience all the love God has in store for you!