4 Important Ways To Show Love, Identified by Divorced People.

Every Wednesday is List Day, or Tip Day, or Quiz Day.

This Wednesday: a list from divorced people about four important ways to show love.

Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal had an interesting piece by Elizabeth Bernstein on The Divorce’s Guide to Marriage. It discusses  marriage research by Terri Orbuch (I draw on this research myself, in Happier at Home) in which divorced people were asked what they’d learned about relationships from that experience.

No surprise, they emphasize the importance of “affective affirmation,” which is psych speak for making loving gestures such as kissing, hand-holding, giving compliments, and saying “I love you.” Fact is, people do feel closer to each other when they regularly demonstrate loving feelings.

Orbuch reports that divorced people identified four important ways to show affection:

1. How often a spouse showed love

2. How often a spouse made a person feel good about the kind of person he or she was

3. How often a spouse made a person feel good about having individual ideas and ways of doing things

4. How often a spouse made life interesting or exciting.

After I read Orbuch’s research in 5 Simple Steps To Take Your Marriage from Good to Great, as part of the research for Happier at Home,  I made the resolution to “Kiss in the morning, kiss at night.” (Related to my resolution to “Hug more, kiss more.”)  It might seem a bit silly to have a schedule for something like kissing my husband, but I realized that making frequent gestures of affection and connection is very important. It definitely makes me happier.

This list above is interesting to me, though, because it expands on the idea of showing affection. People in a relationship don’t want just to hold hands, though that’s important; they want to feel worthy, admirable, and interesting.

It’s helpful for me to think about this, because in my happiness project, I tend to think more about stopping negative behaviors  than adding positive behaviors. For instance, I try to curb my very definite tendencies to keep score, to “talk in a mean voice” as we call it in our house, and to try to pin the blame for things on my husband. (You see why I work on these tendencies!)

Do you think that “affective affirmation” is important to you, in your relationship? What are some ways that you regularly show affection?

  • Tessa S.

    In my family, we spontaneously do group hugs and kisses. Someone will say “group hug” and we all get in a huddle, with our arms around each other for a big, big group squeeze and then we kiss each person in the group. We’ve been doing this for decades and it’s fun and makes everyone feel good. Oh, I need to add, not just my immediate family, but all family members – grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, in-laws – they all know how to group hug. We are also big senders of ‘love notes’. This started out with small notes being placed in family members’ lunch bags before they set off for work or school. It’s expanded over the decades and one can now be surprised by receiving a ‘love note’ with your cup of tea and slice of cake, or even in the lunchtime salad! We use it as a way of expressing our love for a family member or family, in general. A recent note in the salad just said “I love being part of this family”.

    • gretchenrubin

      We do something called “family love sandwich” where my husband and I hug our two daughters in between us. Love notes—what a lovely idea. A friend was just telling me that she keeps a notebook for her daughter – writes notes there – sometimes reminders of tasks to do, sometimes fun stickers etc , sometimes love notes. It’s nice to have them in a notebook, which makes a good keepsake.

  • Megan Gordon

    I am the type of person who does things for the people I love. For example, I will go out of my way to find new and yummy recipes for gluten-free baked goods for my husband, then make them for him for his dessert on Sunday. For my son we plan special events. And we always say “I love you” before we part – in the morning, at bedtime and anytime we talk on the phone.

  • DT

    Not a type of physical affection, but my husband and I routinely thank each other for doing small things around the house or running errands. “Thanks for cooking tonight.” “Thanks for going to the bank today.” “Thanks for putting those groceries away.” It may seem silly, since most things like this aren’t hard and don’t seem to warrant thanks, but it does a number of things for us, I believe — it makes the ‘thankee’ feel appreciated, it prevents the ‘thanker’ from taking the other person’s actions for granted, and it keeps a lighthearted atmosphere in the house (since it’s hard to be irritated at someone who just did something nice or said something nice). I have no idea how this habit got started, but we do it multiple times a day and I really like that it’s a part of our routine.

    • fireflyeyes

      We also do this. It’s not silly, it’s good manners! It doesn’t matter if you are married to the person and they cook dinner every night, anyone who has cooked me a meal deserve thanks. I actually am baffled when couples DON’T do this. He just folded your laundry and you’re not going to say thank you?? That’s how you end up taking a spouse for granted.

      • mel727

        I agree. One of my pet peeves is that just because you share a familial or familiar relationship, doesn’t mean that you can treat people with less courtesy than you would treat a stranger or a colleague at work.

  • JDV

    i fiercely love my husband and my family, but i’m not just a physical affection kind of person. at least not as much as my husband. i feel like he wants to hug me for every little thing and for nothing. whereas i’ll leave notes, make his favorite foods, and go the extra mile on the everyday little things for him…which to me is more meaningful than hugs. which sometimes just leaves me feeling smothered.

    • Allie

      It sounds like the hugs/physical affection ARE important to him though. I could’ve written this post earlier in my marriage until a crisis hit and I learned that notes and such meant little to my husband – he got his reassurance/love from physical affection. It doesn’t mean what you like/don’t like is wrong, just that you are two different people. Make sure you are giving him what he needs; not what you want in return. (Sorry if that sounds preachy… I’ve just been there before.)

  • It’s so true that in long term relationships the littlest actions make a big difference. One of my favorite books, though I’m not too into the religious side of it, is The Five Love Languages – really fascinating tips that offer a lot of insight into what certain people want in relationships, how to communicate and how to give.

    • gretchenrubin

      I agree. That book has some really fascinating insights into the different ways that people express, and perceive, love and affection.

      • Jessica Cary

        That book really transformed how I view my relationships. With my husband, it helped me realize that even though I longed to hear lots of lovey-dove words, he was really shouting “I LOVE YOU” by painting our bedroom walls. And instead of writing him gushy love notes, he feels loved when I clean up the kitchen. I had/have some resistance to this. But lately, I’ve been experimenting with performing these tasks as a “gift” to him. I can’t say it makes every pot-scrubbing a blissful experience, but it’s a start.

        Ooo, about adding positive behaviors and curbing the “mean voice” tendency… have you found a positive habit to replace it with? That is my public-enemy-number-one-icky-parenting-relationship-habit. I hear it coming out of my mouth and I am often powerless to stop it. Shudder.

        • James

          Sometimes, when I know accurately how I feel about a habit, and have an alternative plan, my behaviour catches up with it. If you’re like that too, then the shudders are on the path to a good outcome.

  • Anne

    My husband and I are incredibly grateful for what the other brings to the relationship and we are constantly thanking each other…. it’s not one big thing that fixes everything… it’s the daily little things that help not break it in the first place. My husband will regularly surprise me with flowers (he knows how much I appreciate them), but it also means he needn’t spend 200% more on Valentines Day to make up for a barren year. My favourite keepsake is a yellow sticky note I found on my alarm clock one morning that said ‘I love you, Mrs. L’. I’m no model material, but my husband makes me feel like I’m the most beautiful woman in the world… or at least his world, which is all that matters. I have always thanked my kids for getting their chores done. Sometimes I have to remind them, but that’s okay, I always show appreciation for their effort. We don’t gush with praise, we try to keep it real, but we don’t withhold either. I don’t know where it comes from because neither my husband or me were raised this way. We lived in very strict, non-demonstrative households. I’m happy to say that yesterday, out of the blue, my 16-year-old-son sent me a text saying ‘I just wanted to tell you that I love you, and that you’re a great mother’… you can’t imagine how wonderful and happy it made me to receive such an unsolicited text. And although we have our stresses (don’t we all) mostly just by being nice to each other and showing some love and affection, we at least don’t feel taken for granted in the roles we play in our family. It works for us and I wouldn’t want it any other way. Some may think it’s so ‘Polly-Anna’, but we just see it as showing respect.

  • Thank you for this post! I’ve been thinking about relationships and what makes them successful a lot lately, because my relationship just transformed from a war-zone to the most loving, intimate and gentle relationship I’ve ever been in my life. Now I’m on a mission to teach this understanding to other couples.

    How I did it? I learned from George and Linda Pransky how I’m actually feeling my thinking — nothing else — and how my current state of mind changes my thinking and the way I see the world. George’s excellent book “The Relationship Handbook” helped me to see our relationship and behavior in a totally new light and this new understanding changed EVERYTHING.

    We went in about 4-5 months from arguing several times a day and fighting every other day or so to being kind and loving towards each other 99 % of time, solving our misunderstandings super fast and smoothly and dealing with our differences in the most positive and constructive ways.

    Our secret? We understand that when we’re in a low state of mind — feeling irritated, angry, upset, tired, cranky, fearful etc. — our thinking is off and we can’t see clearly what’s going on. It makes no sense to think anything important in that state of mind — or even share your thoughts (and feelings) with each other. When one of us notices the other one being in a low state of mind, we just leave each other alone to wait for the bad mood to lift.

    And it always lifts! That’s the beauty of the human mind! It has an inbuilt system that brings us back to the peace of mind, whenever we give it a chance. How do we give it? By not thinking too much — i.e. not wondering why I’m feeling what I’m feeling or trying to fix things that we (falsely) assume are making us feeling bad.

    By seeing how stupid it is to think or talk when you’re in a bad mood, stressed etc. — or strike a conversation with someone who is feeling bad — we give each other chance to recover from the bad mood much quicker than before.

    In return we really cherish the moments when we’re both in the high state of mind feeling relaxed, easy, light, calm and clear. And nowadays we’re in a good mood most of the time.

    In that state we seem to be naturally saying and doing nice things to each other, showing a lot of affection, paying attention to each other and finding all kinds of solutions to the problems that in a low state of mind felt impossible to solve.

    I have more than one divorce behind me and I could have NEVER imagined that it would be this easy, fun and simply wonderful to be in a romantic relationship with someone!

    If you can find George’s book somewhere, I HIGHLY recommend it: http://www.amazon.com/The-Relationship-Handbook-George-Pransky/dp/0971198802/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1343257379&sr=8-1&keywords=george+pransky

    Or just watch this video lecture from Linda and George: https://vimeo.com/35441337

    It’s (almost) never too late to have a wonderful relationship with your spouse! Good luck!

    Ms. Katri Manninen, Finland

  • Interesting, particularly when considering the source. The idiom “you don’t know what you got until it’s gone” definitely applies. I was just married recently and was very interested in asking people advice. People love to contribute to their opinions. I was particularly interested in what the divorced people had to say (I wasn’t shy). Some seemed bitter, but others offered very genuine feedback. By this logic, should I be getting financial advice from the destitute? 🙂

    http://mysearch4wisdom.wordpress.com Please check out my new blog. I would love your support!

    • James

      From the once-bankrupted, especially if they recovered successfully.

  • peninith

    The love-filled coffee cup image you chose really could be a symbol for my happy long-distance relationship of twelve years. Every morning my friend checks in with me first thing. He and I chat over our morning coffee on line. We usually also check in with each other and chat again late in the day. Yes, our time together ‘in real life’ is special, but the ground of our relationship is daily exchanges, encouraging each other to accomplish and enjoy our goals and activities, sharing both important and trivial news, giving each other support and ‘how to’ advice, exchanging information, laughing together. There is incalculably more intimacy, mutual support, kindness and fun in this somewhat ‘virtual’ friendship than I ever experienced living under the same roof with my husband.

  • Molly Monet

    Since my divorce, I feel like I am a student of marriage, reflecting upon what we could have done better and observing successful couples to see what they do. I find Orbuch’s report quite persuasive, as I believe that appreciation for your partner makes all the difference.

    I also agree with the idea of making positive additions instead of eliminating negative behaviors. Since my divorce, I am so much happier because of what I have added: time for me, time alone with my kids, new/renewed social connections, etc. Personally, I find that when I try to get rid of a negative behavior, I feel deprived or rebel against the limitation. However, when I add something positive, I feel nothing but joy.

    For those divorcees who would like to read about my tips for finding happiness post-divorce, my site is http://www.postcardsfromapeacefuldivorce.com

  • Jennifer

    My husband and I celebrate our anniversary every month. After 27 years (327 months) we still do and we still try to be the first one to remember the day and say “Happy Anniversary” first. It reminds us how lucky we are. And we have been kissing good morning, good-bye, hello and good night for the same amount of time.

  • anne

    i visited my great aunt zula in a nursing home near the end of her life. in a rare moment of deep clarity she said, ‘if you kiss more, you get better results.’

    her sage advice has stuck with me for lo these many years.

  • Lily

    For me, without physical affection I lose that “closeness” I feel to a person. In relationships where physical affection was not important to the other person, the relationship eventually distilled down to a very good friendship situation – which is important, but a good friendship should be a PART of the relationship, not THE relationship.

  • YES to “kiss in the morning, kiss at night! It makes me think of one we practiced in our home (unknowingly at first) called “Welcome well, Good Goodbye”.
    In the relentless coming and going of family life – we tried to “greet and good bye” family members as they came and went from our home. It made us connect, know and relate to each other… and happier. Thanks Gretchen- I love your endeavor and it encourages me with ideas and helpful thinking.

  • Wendy deLemos

    My husband and I have a tradition when we are both at home, to never leave the house without giving each other a kiss. Not only does it make both of us feel special, but it lets our kids see how much we value each other. Because the kiss has to be right before we leave the house, it is a joke among our four kids to try to kiss one of us after the ‘official’ kiss, but before we leave the house. Of course that means that we have to have another ‘official’ kiss before we go.

  • Thanks for posting this! My wife and I have definitely found that incessant gratitude is really essential, and that being aware of the innate human biases helps a lot. When you ask couples how much of the work around the house they each do, as a percentage, it adds up to more than 100%, and so I always try to edit my own internal estimate down. If I don’t feel like I’m doing more than my fair share, then I know I’m not doing my fair share. It helps particularly when I do a chore that is not generally “my chore” to think positively of it as a gift–the reason I do it is so she won’t have to later–and then it doesn’t feel like a chore, but like a favor, and doing favors–especially for your best friend–always feels nice. When I say “thank you” when she puts together the week’s menu plan with a free twenty minutes she had, or when she says “thank you” because I watched the kids while she went out for lunch with a friend, it just keeps the virtuous cycle going.

  • Gabi Marshall

    My bookclub is reading your book this month. I wanted to tell you how much I am enjoying it.
    As for the question here: my husband and I always kiss before either of us leaves the other and say “be safe and return to me safely.” We also have an occasional rhyming routine that has developed over the years that starts off by one of us calling the other “sugar lips” and progesses for several rounds. I think sillyness is a sign of intimacy in our relationship. We have rituals such as weekend breakfasts spent playing “Upwords” and listening to “Car Talk” on the radio that mean more to us than grand gestures. At the holidays the best gift I receive is always a love letter called “Notes from the Shop” (he’s a woodworker) he has written one for me every year of our married life. I slip him a love note when he’s not expecting it- I sneak them into his lunch box or pocket. We regularly tell each other that we are lucky to have each other and that we are worthy of being loved. We just celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary and we both spoke to each other about how we love each other even more now than when we first married. When I write it all out it sounds sicky sweet but really it just happens in an environment of love and gratitude for each other.

    • gretchenrubin

      I’m so happy to hear that you’re enjoying the book – and what wonderful loving rituals!

      I’m inspired by all these comments to leave a nice note for my husband. Now that I think of it, I don’t think I have EVER done that. Is that possible?

      • Gabi Marshall

        Thanks so much! I always visualize leaving these notes as sowing seeds of love. The harvest is amazing. 🙂

  • Kate

    My aunt and uncle have been married I guess about 50 years now. They have one of the best marriages I’ve ever seen. They like to be together, are interested in each other’s lives, have their own independent interests, are affectionate, etc., etc.
    I’m single but one time I asked them if they had a secret. Answering at the same time, my aunt said “Using good manners,” and my uncle said “Always saying thank you.”

    • gretchenrubin

      Good manners takes you a LONG way.

  • Try reading the 5 Love Languages which goes into this in more detail.

  • clandiva

    I love this– so affirming of our own experience. I’m very, very demonstrative, both by temperament and because of family custom. I think this was a bit startling for my husband at first, as his background wasn’t similar–but he has gotten quite demonstrative himself. His own tendency is to be courteous to everyone, and this has definitely become another mutual facet of our interaction with one another. I’m so grateful for how loving and truly concerned for my welfare and happiness he is, and for so many other things, it is easy to tell him so. And–all the more moving because he is not at all gushy–he tells me how much he appreciates me, just quietly out of nowhere. I feel so actively fortunate in this every day that the little irritations stay little and unimportant by comparison.

  • harkinna

    gretchen, did you ever use adam’s service? i could not find another post on the blog about him…after reading the Atlantic monthly article about behavior modification in this article, http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/06/the-perfected-self/8970/, i have considered joining retrofit…similar to adam’s service…

    • gretchenrubin

      No, I’ve talked to him but haven’t used the service.

  • Lee Anne

    Love this list. Reminds me a lot of a very important book I think couples should read. The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. He also has a great website where you can take an assessment to find your primary love language. Works in regard to loving your children too.

  • Botnino

    With the help of my loved one, I invented the (incredibly fun) concept of a “starting kiss” and a “finishing kiss”. Often used to start and finish meals (a little like a religious thankfulness ceremony) but can be expanded to be used in the beginning and end of a drive, an annoying family event, or anything else. “can I have my finishing kiss?” – it works for us.