About once a month, Pete and Naomi spend a designated amount of time reminiscing about their marriage—in particular, they each recall and describe a positive experience they shared together over the course of their relationship (after being married for twenty-three years, they have a large pool of memories to reflect upon).
These “reminiscent moments” (as Naomi and Pete like to call them) may seem simple and sweet, but these moments aren’t just about sweetness. In fact, I think it’s fair to say that these moments of sharing serve a very important function for the couple and for the health of their relationship. As Naomi described, “Our friends ask us all the time, ‘You’ve done this once a month for how many years? Why?’ My answer is always the same: It makes us feel better about our relationship, it makes us feel closer, it makes us feel better about ourselves. It’s that simple.”
Reminiscing for a Stronger Marriage/Relationship
When Pete and Naomi recall parts of their relationship history, they aren’t just exchanging factual information. In essence (and most importantly), the couple is recapturing pleasurable experiences they shared and created together—this recapturing includes remembering the specific details of an event, their individual feelings and sensations associated with what happened, their feelings toward each other as a result of the shared experience, the vivid mental pictures stirred as the couple relives the experience together.
This type of shared remembering re-awakens what has occurred long ago as if it is actually happening all over again.
Such reminiscing requires a particular mindset, an openness and attentiveness to the process of reliving a once-lived experience. Couples do this all the time, but sadly, they typically do it with painful events—a repetitive reliving of the painful past that involves conjuring up all the pain, frustration and alienation they once felt, only to relive an argument again and again with absolutely no benefit to their marriage or relationship. This is reminiscing gone awry.
But when you and your partner make the conscious choice to reminisce about positive, pleasurable, satisfying experiences you co-experienced (like Naomi and Pete), you end up enhancing the emotional foundation and bond of your relationship. Reminiscing about positive events is like feeding your relationship an emotional multi-vitamin.
In their book, Savoring: A New Model of Positive Experience, researchers Fred B. Bryant and Joseph Veroff state that to savor a positive experience, one must have or learn the capacities to “attend to, appreciate, and enhance the positive experiences of their lives.” The authors also highlight that “attentive and appreciative awareness of the pleasure must also occur or we would not consider the experience to involve savoring.”
It appears that an essential ingredient in the savoring process is the ability to be mindful of the pleasurable experience, to acknowledge and observe your positive experiences. Clearly Pete and Naomi are savoring parts of their relationship history—they are mindfully reawakening past events that have occurred and savoring the present day pleasures that are stirred while looking back on these experiences. In the vivid recalling of the positives of their shared past, the couple is keeping certain experiences (along with the positive feelings connected to these experiences) alive in the present (so the positive-past becomes the positive-present).
Of course you and your spouse/partner can savor present day experiences as well (shared laughter and silliness, vacations, social events, parenting joys, sexual-sensual experiences), but the important point to realize from today’s post is that you may have an untapped warehouse of mentally-stored experiences that you and your partner are not accessing; experiences waiting to be remembered and mentally relived in as much vivid detail as possible—a sharing that can strengthen your marriage or relationship by bringing to life the positive experiences of your relationship history.
Are you willing to try savoring the good times that you and your partner have shared?
Relationship and Marital Resources
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Here’s to strengthening your relationship!
Dr. Rich Nicastro