This may seem like an odd title for a blog. Most would assume that if you bothered to marry someone you at least like them. Things may start off that way, but all too often as the years go by our general regard for one another can be tainted with bitterness, hidden resentment, or even dislike. We accumulate hurts and disappointments that can cloud the filter we look at our spouses through. Sure, love may still be there, but do you actually like each other? This is an important question because it forecasts a marriage’s staying power, and contributes to the overall pleasure of a life spent together.
I’ve heard many couples say that they love their spouse, but they don’t know if they like them. Life becomes a hard road when you love someone out of obligation. My belief is that you can’t have love without like, so like is in there somewhere. Maybe it just requires adjusting some assumptions and knocking the rust off of the areas of your relationship that may have tarnished.
Having Some Fun
Remember your dates when you first got together? If they were boring you wouldn’t have gotten past the first week. For you to be married now, there was something electrical that compelled you to one another back then. Memories of this attraction fade after years of raising kids, doing laundry, going to work, and paying bills. It can make our relationship with our spouse perfunctory instead of fulfilling. Breathing fresh air into our marriage requires intention, conversation, and some fun. Maybe you can relive some fond memories together, or take a little adventure. Road trips are a great way to have those long conversations again if you put the phone down and prioritize each other. Shedding some domestic have-to’s and breaking routines can be liberating, which also helps you laugh a bit more with your spouse. Laughter and fun together (not just around each other, but together) can help us see with new eyes the person we couldn’t get enough of all those years ago.
I’ve written on empathy before, but it deserves a review because it is a huge tool for connecting with anyone, especially your spouse. Empathy is the ability to put ourselves in another’s shoes, to share in the experience of their emotions from their perspective even if it’s not our own. Empathy means understanding, not necessarily agreement. We can become very entrenched in our own perspective that tricks us into thinking we’re always right. There is more than one way to look at something, and trying to see it through another person’s lens can help promote understanding. Understanding can then lead to compassion, and compassion is an antidote to negative feelings. Instead of remaining in a sea of contempt, try looking at your spouse as a human being created by God who needs purpose and relationship just like you do. At the heart of most arguments is a basic need to be understood and not judged. I think of Jesus telling us to get the plank of wood out of our own eye before judging the speck of wood in someone else’s. Empathy is the opposite of judgment. It recognizes vulnerability in our spouse, which fosters intimacy and connection in our marriage.
Unconditional Positive Regard
This is probably the most important step. Unconditional positive regard is a hallmark of counseling, for good reason, because it trains us to see the good in another person and to regard them positively as people. I’m not advocating turning a blind eye to abuse or sociopathic behavior, but what I am advocating is that in the absence of those things, that we see our spouses with unconditional positive regard. This means that our underlying assumption is that our spouse is for us, and not against us. This is very important. How can you like someone you believe is against you? How can you let your defenses down and trust someone who is out to get you? All too often when spouses argue it’s because there is some belief that the other is trying to hurt them. It’s easy to feel hurt, then anger, over assumptions that the other was intentionally blowing off or discounting the other. Unconditional positive regard means flipping the script and changing the assumption that their behavior was intentional and meant to hurt. Spouses who like each other have to maintain the core belief that their spouse holds their best interest at heart. When we train ourselves in this way, we can challenge the temptation to name-call and create a chasm of dislike. In a nutshell, spouses who like each other give one another the benefit of the doubt and establish positive assumptions about their intentions.
Of course there will be times when our spouses aren’t our favorite people. We’ll get angry and there will be injustices, but remembering that you like this person will lead to reconciliation. God commands us to give our best to our spouse. Giving our best is not only in action, but in thought. Our thoughts should be for our spouses, with the assumption that the other person is worth liking. Our thoughts lead to actions, so first believing you like your spouse can generate the actions that prove it. When both spouses commit to this, the prize is a solid marriage, and a solid friendship.
If you want to rediscover the friendship in your marriage, Cheryl and other Crossroads counselors are here to help. You can call (225) 341-4147 to set up an appointment.