Mutual Fondness and Admiration Keeps Relationships Healthy

In the early days of a romantic relationship, the telltale signs of love are hard to miss—excitement, laughter, and a hunger to get to know each other and to spend time together. As your relationship grows and matures, you fall into quieter, more sustainable rhythms. Years into your marriage, you and your spouse might care more deeply for each other than ever before, yet find the signs of that admiration harder to read.

Arguments are inevitable. Conflicts can appear like fissures in your partnership, drawing you apart. Wounds caused by heated words, or things left unsaid, can grow inside the distances between you.

You might find yourself surprised by thoughts like, “marriage is hard.”

Dr. John Gottman, renowned psychotherapist and researcher, believes that a healthy relationship is one in which mutual fondness and admiration are the safety net that opens up when conflict introduces a wedge in your marriage. Fondness keeps your heart open when you’re angry. Admiration nudges you to listen when you’re feeling wronged.

Fondness and admiration ensure that even when the going gets tough, love is still an undercurrent that runs strong and steady in your marriage.

Why are Fondness and Admiration so Important?

Seeing an elderly couple walk down the street holding hands brings a smile to almost every face. Why is that? After years and years of living together, they’re still facing life side-by-side. They still admire one another. They’re still fond of each other.

Marriage can be difficult because you come to see the full picture of your spouse, and your spouse sees the full picture of you. You become deeply accustomed to one another. You’re fully aware of each other’s flaws, or your failures under pressure.

Fondness and admiration are so important because they signal an essentially positive attitude toward your partner and your life together—even after all this time. When the rush of young love fades into something deeper, fondness and admiration act as the adhesive that binds you together. When you genuinely like your partner and feel cared for yourself, it’s easier to navigate tricky emotional terrain as a team. In fact, in navigating that terrain, you’ve likely grown closer together.

Contempt Corrodes

Disagreement doesn’t have to be a distress signal in your marriage. There will be times when miscommunication about chores, holiday plans, or expectations crop up unavoidably. Differences in opinion can even enrich your relationship, expanding your outlook and keeping you flexible.

Conflict alerts you to trouble in your marriage when it exposes patterns of contempt. Sarcasm, name-calling, and eye-rolling are all ways of responding to conflict that convey condescension. If contemptuous communication begins to dominate your marital exchanges, your bond can start to suffer.

If your partner rolls his eyes at you, you might feel more tempted to throw something back at him than open yourself up and listen. When he hears your retort, his instinct will likely also be combative.

Communicating with contempt says, “I’m better than you,” or “you’re not good enough.” Contempt demonstrates that your essential view of your relationship is negative. The core of your bond might not feel like love anymore—it might just feel like hurt.

The Antidote

If you don’t have a positive view of your partner, a disagreement as small as who was supposed to unload the dishwasher can come to seem catastrophic. In the flickering half-light of contempt, little missteps morph into dark shadows that obscure how you once felt about your spouse.

Contempt encourages you to face conflict as individuals; fondness and admiration ensure that you face conflict as a team. Regularly tapping into the fondness and admiration you have for your partner will help you look at conflict in terms of how you can get past it together.