By John Gerson

A colleague of mine, who is a child psychologist and author of an excellent guidebook for parents, observes that nothing strengthens the bond between parents and children as much as the parents taking an active interest in what interests the child. I think about this as entering the child’s world and stretching to discover what that world looks and feels like. Of course, keeping your observations and hunches to yourself won’t benefit the child; she needs the pleasure of her parent’s seeing and commenting upon what is seen in positive ways in order to strengthen her interests and her self esteem.

So, we know that our children need our active attention and admiration in order to feel good about themselves, feel good about and trust us, and to grow. It’s a short step to understanding that our marital partners need these ingredients from us for the same reasons. If they are short in supply, and are replaced by complaints and criticism, then it is very likely that feelings of alienation and anger will develop, and closeness will be hard to achieve.

All is not lost, by any means, however. When I identify a negative pattern of energy of in my work with couples, I talk about it, and highlight that they have reason to hope for change, so long as each partner consciously and deliberately devotes herself to entering her partner’s world, taking an active interest in what she finds there, and focusing out loud on the partner’s strengths. There are other ingredients that support the reversal of negative patterns, but none as important as these. Remember, however, that re-orienting yourself away from what turns you off about your partner, restraining the old impulse to go there once again, and deliberately replacing the negative with the positive, will require work on your part, and that in order for the new strategy to work, it must be sustained. If it is sustained, then your partner’s distrust that you are just “blowing smoke” will begin to evaporate. If the exchange of active, positive expressions of acclaim, admiration and support is sustained, then new behaviors become stamped in. I’m reminded of the old lyric, “we belong to a mutual admiration society” as I write this. Human beings are pleasure seekers: if their behavior is rewarded, it will tend to be repeated.

It is worth listing other positive behaviors here that can keep the spark of love and trust alive:

Touching – the magic of touch (non-sexual) can re-invigorate a relationship – a pat on the back, squeeze of the hand, a hug, an arm around the shoulder.

Novelty – Remember the old adage- variety is the spice of life? The familiarity of everyday life with a partner can and should bring feelings of comfort and security. Adding a new activity, surprising your partner with an unexpected behavior – gifts, flowers, music, unrequested massage, an unexpected night in a hotel, etc., can lead to an exciting re-vision of you as a partner.

Can you see that if the positive expressions of acclaim, admiration, and support are sustained, that your partners will begin to see you differently, and look forward to being with you? In a society so filled with hazardous addictions, why not work to create a sense of “home” for your partner that has its own, healthy magnetism?