In our wedding vows 46+ years ago when Cindy and I (Steve) repeated our vows we were asked, “Do you take ______ to love, honor, cherish, etc.?” But nowhere were we exhorted to like each other. I guess the assumption when we made our vows is that if we say we will “love” our spouse (till death do us part) then we will like them as well.
But here’s a Life Lesson we came to learn very quickly: Just because you are married and you live in the same house together, it doesn’t mean that you still love and LIKE each other. It also does not mean that you SHOW it in a way that the other understands. Your love may be one of the best-kept secrets around! Even liking each other may be a secret. Or maybe it’s not:
“People most often talk about finding love, falling in love, staying in love. Yes, all of those things are deeply important, but sometimes we have to remind one another that while we are in love, we’re also ‘in like.’ If we stop liking each other, we’ll lose our desire to continue pursuing one another. It’s not fun to be around people we don’t like. We rarely have the motivation to work on something we do not like. We savor what we like and put the rest down the garbage disposal. Dislike looks like blatant disgust or apathy—both are detrimental to a marriage.” (Mallory Redmond from the article, “Making Marriage Beautiful by Liking Each Other”)
What Causes Us To Fall Out of “Like?”
In Gary Thomas’ book, Devotions for a Sacred Marriage: A Year of Weekly Devotions for Couples he writes about the brides-to-be, and married women he talked with at a marriage conference. Those that were not yet married “gushed with enthusiasm” about the things they loved about the men they would be marrying. But the married women emphasized the faults they saw in their husbands, rather than the good. He then posed the question:
“Where is the bridge that leads a woman to stop defining a man by what he is and start defining him by what he is NOT? The sad answer, unfortunately, is marriage. All our hopes, expectations, and dreams get poured into this relationship. Because we marry a sinner, each day brings new and often legitimate disappointments. Before long, we stop seeing what attracted us. Instead, we become consumed by what disappoints us. Before marriage our eyes were filled with the good points of the person we had chosen to spend our lives with. Now our eyes get filled with their shortcomings.”
The problem can often be that we eventually focus on what we don’t like about each other, rather than what we do. We stop making the effort to continue to romance and grow good feelings about each other. Many of us believe that marriages go bad because of fighting that occurs.
The Importance Of Stockpiling Good Feelings For Each Other
But as marriage expert, Dr John Gottman says:
“The issue isn’t whether you fight, it’s HOW you fight and how rich your stockpile of GOOD feelings is about each other to weather difficulties and keep your basic attitude toward your partner positive.”
Dr Willard Harley, founder of the Marriage Builders ministry, refers to stockpiling “good feelings,” as depositing “love units.” He writes:
“Inside all of us is a Love Bank with accounts in the names of everyone we know. When these people are associated with our good feelings, ‘love units’ are deposited into their accounts. And when they are associated with bad feelings, love units are withdrawn. We are emotionally attracted to people with positive balances and repulsed by those with negative balances. Our emotions encourage us to be with people who seem to treat us well, and avoid those who hurt us.”
That’s why it’s important to build upon the love and respect you gave in the beginning of your relationship. You need to “stockpile” your good feelings for each other.
It’s Important to Be Likable.
When you choose a friend, don’t you look for someone who’s pleasant, attractive, and enjoyable to be with? I don’t tend to stay in long-term friendships with people who are always negative, boring, or unhappy. And I shouldn’t expect my mate to either. Since we are committed to each other, we want our “staying” to be as fun as possible.
Jim Daly from the Focus On The Family radio program talked about the 6 criteria of healthy marriages. Here’s one of them. Couples that are living in a happy marital union have:
“High levels of friendship, respect, affection, and humor. This is defined as liking each other. It’s being each other’s best friend, and doing things together. They show interest in and show respect for the other’s thoughts and feelings. These couples avoid put-downs, and show support for each other’s goals and aspirations. They hold feelings of affection for each other, have fun and laugh together, and are number one in each other’s eyes.” (From the Crosswalk.com article, 6 Things that Make for a Healthy Marriage”)
What If You Don’t Like Each Other?
If you aren’t feeling as though you like each other, as well as love each other there are many things you can do. First, be aware of the fact that this is a “normal” thing that most married couples experience at some point in their marriages. But don’t ignore it. It takes intentionality and concerted effort to get to a better place in your marriage.
The following are a few things we do and others we know do too, that helps us grow our friendship. We love each other but we need to also like each other. When you are with each other day in and day out, you can take each other for granted. This should not be so. We have to fight the gravitational pull that leads to the saying, “Familiarity breeds contempt.” It can—but as marriage partners we have to fight it. That takes intentionality —pro-actively finding things that will draw us together.
It is like what Simone Signoret said, “Chains do not hold a marriage together. It is threads, hundreds of tiny threads, which sew people together through the years.” After we marry, we need to pro-actively keep sewing those threads. So, here are a few tips that can help us to do that (which you may want to use, as well).
Tips to Help Us Grow Our Friendship:
• We make it a point to laugh together. Pro-actively, we look for funny things to share with each other.
• We spend quality time together. It’s a matter of finding “pockets of time” that we can spend together connecting. Coffee dates, eating out together (putting our phones aside during that time so we concentrate on each other), and dating each other are a few of those quality times we spend together. We take walks, read together, and talk face-to-face about non-stressful subjects.
• Our oldest son and his wife LOVE to travel together and enjoy new cultural experiences. They also enjoy having lunch dates with each other in little out of the way places. Plus, they enjoy hiking together in challenging places. Our youngest son and his wife thoroughly enjoy swing dancing together (and they’re good at it). They enjoy music and watching sports together. It builds their friendship and camaraderie with each other.
• We have friends that love to cook together. It’s a real partnership in how they approach what they cook, and for them it is most enjoyable and draws them closer together.
• We enjoy having friends over to play games, and laugh together in fun fellowship. Sometimes we play games, just the two of us, and other times we do this with friends.
• We also read before bedtime and share what we’re reading. Some friends of ours find different books that they can actually read to each other. They read and talk and draw closer to each other during those times.
• We have friends who have a cabin up on a mountain. Their “get-away” times build their friendship with each other. Sometimes they have friends and/or relatives that join them and other times, they just enjoy the time they can have together by themselves.
• Because we live on a fixed income we don’t have a lot of money to spend on discretionary things like trips. But even if we don’t have a “lot” we can still make special times together. We like to go a favorite restaurant for lunch. Often times there’s a long wait for a table. During that wait and also the wait after ordering our meal we will ask each other questions that come from a book like, 201 Great Questions. And even after more than 46 years of marriage we can still surprise each other by some of our answers to those questions.
• Also, we put together “Ten Marital Commitments” that we have posted in our home. We include them in the article, Your Personal Ten Marriage Commandments that you can read. It shows some of the important points we believe has helped us to build a healthier marriage, a love relationship, and a “like” relationship with each other. It’s difficult to like someone that you don’t treat respectfully.
Ask, and keep asking God, to show you things you can do to build “love units” with your spouse. Read your Bible. Apply the principles for loving, and healthy living to your marriage. Our Wonderful Counselor, the Holy Spirit, will guide you in this mission. If you don’t like or love your spouse, ask God to show you how to begin again. We have a Romantic Ideas topic on our web site available to help you to get and continue to light up good “sparks” in your relationship.
Most importantly, ask your God, whose very name means LOVE, to teach you how to show love to your spouse in ways that truly reveal and reflect the love of Christ. It’s an important mission!
“Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children. And live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God“ (Ephesians 5:1-2).
Steve and Cindy Wright
— ADDITIONALLY —
We talk about this issue and so much more in our book, 7 ESSENTIALS to Grow Your Marriage. We hope you will pick up a copy for yourself. Just click on the “Now Available” link below to do so.