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?
From 2006 through 2014, as she wrote The Happiness Project and Happier at Home, Gretchen chronicled her thoughts, observations, and discoveries on The Happiness Project Blog.