Today we are going to unpack the virtue of admiration. By the way, did you know that admiration has a dark side? I had no idea until we tackled this subject too, but it does make a lot of sense!
If you’ve ever read the Song of Solomon in the Bible I think you have a pretty clear example there of how admiration is so helpful for fostering love and affection between lovers.
What is Admiration?
I imagine everyone knows what admiration is, generally. But actually describing it might be a little harder. Sometimes it can be hard to differentiate admiration from other similar positive emotions in marriage. Here’s a helpful quote from a study we reviewed: “Admiration is a feeling of delighted approval of the accomplishment or character of another person[i]”
A lot of the time admiration comes from pleasant surprises: when someone does something or shows characteristics that prompt feelings of fondness, awe, approval and respect[ii]. I think that we can also benefit from being intentional about admiration though, and seek to notice and focus on those attributes in others and in our spouse in particular.
But there are other emotions linked to admiration. These include[iii]:
- Gratitude: thankfulness for someone’s actions and who they are. Strongly linked to feelings of admiration and often naturally follows on from it. Both have positive effects for relationships
- Elevation: researchers describe this as a specific form of admiration felt in response to “witnessing an act of virtue or moral beauty”. It’s like when you see your spouse do something especially incredible you “elevate” them in your mind.
- Envy: now this is the dark side of admiration, where instead of approving of the qualities of others, you feel bad about your lack of these qualities. Or you desire to take those qualities for yourself. Envy is desiring the good others have rather than just admiring them. You see, admiration is wholly focused on the other person, while envy is more introspective
- Joy: feelings of admiration are physically and psychologically similar to feeling joy. We often experience these together.
Admiration Impacts Marriage
Stability and Satisfaction
Here’s a neat, long-term study. Shapiro et al[iv] interviewed 43 newlywed couples and then observed them for 6 years of their marriage. They found that the key qualities which predicted a stable, happy marriage were:
- Fondness and admiration expressed. Expressed is the keyword there: not just felt.
- Awareness of your spouse’s needs and their world
- Amount of unity expressed through use of phrases including “we” and “us” rather than “I”
These factors were strongly linked to both marital satisfaction for husbands and wives, and marital stability. Using these factors they were able to predict stability/divorce 6 years later with 94% accuracy.
How fascinating is that? From one conversation the researchers could predict the trajectory of a marriage with almost total success. By the way — we worked really hard in designing our content for our marriage retreat on The Marriage Cruise for Smart Couples to build these three items up in the couples who attended.
Fondness and admiration were also seen as a buffer which protected couples from the stress of major life events such as the birth of the first child.
This was especially true for husbands expressing admiration for their wives: “The fondness and admiration system in a couple’s relationship can be thought of as the glue that holds the relationship together… The more fondness for his wife the husband expresses, or the more glue he puts into the relationship, the more satisfied the wife is with the marriage.[v]” (Shapiro et al, 2000)
Admiration for someone can inspire you to want to be a better person yourself. This kind of inspiration “involves the transcendence of the ordinary preoccupations or limitations of human agency[vi]”, meaning that admiring and being inspired by someone motivates you to push yourself beyond what you would normally think yourself capable of.
Feelings of elevation (admiration for moral excellence) motivates you to be more like your spouse, increases your desire to help those around you, and increases our appreciation for the good things you have in life[vii].
I thought this was a brilliant piece of learning from the research, too. You would think admiring others only builds them up but it has this reflective impact that inspires you to become more and to push yourself towards better things, too.
Finally, researchers have also found that inspiration creates a sense of connectedness between admirer and admired, and can increase openness levels between them and even increase the energy and enthusiasm you feel when together[viii]. All good mojo for marriage, right?
Creating an Admiration Habit
The exercise we have available to our patrons for this episode is about creating a sustainable admiration habit in your marriage. If you’ve realized this is an area you want to grow in, and you want to experience the amazing benefits of developing admiration as part of your marriage, you’ll want to pick up your copy of this couples exercise. You can get this by becoming a patron of The Marriage Podcast for Smart People.
How To Create More Admiration in Your Marriage
So we’ve seen some of the benefits of making admiration a key part of your marriage. So how do you turn this into a reality?
Build Your Admiration System
You might think this stuff maybe sounds too lofty and out of reach. Let me give you a very concrete example of how you can start to make this work today, and of course, if you want to go deeper — get the exercise that we have created to go with this episode.
Remember: admiration is part of a cycle that brings couples together and helps them resolve problems[ix]. So, here’s a simple process to illustrate how you can develop a positive cycle of admiration. Notice how achievable this is:
- One spouse is experiencing difficulty or some of their needs aren’t being met
- The other spouse notices this
- The other spouse attempts to meet the needs
- The first spouse notices this attempt to help them
- The first spouse expresses this admiration for their husband/wife’s ability to meet their needs
This forms a cycle where the expression of admiration motivates the admired spouse to continue finding ways to meet the admiring spouse’s needs, leading to further admiration. Boom. Easy, right?
There’s a couple things more that we want to note, just to give you a leg up on this.
Awareness of Needs
Work on becoming more aware of your spouse’s needs. This is not hard to do.
Expression of admiration and awareness of your spouse’s needs work together to strengthen a marriage. Remember: these are two of the predictors of stability in a marriage. You can work on them simultaneously to make all this easier.
Awareness of your spouse’s needs means you notice when they are stressed or upset, and you express more admiration and affection to help them cope. “If the husband is aware of the stress the wife is going through, for example, he may respond by putting more glue into the relationship or expressing more fondness or admiration toward his wife.[x]“. The wife then notices that her husband is making a particular effort to help her, which strengthens the marriage and helps reduce the stress she is under.
So, to express admiration effectively just slow down and observe your spouse more closely so that you can become aware of your spouse’s needs and how s/he is coping with the stresses of life[xi] (Shapiro et al, 2000).
Now that you have got the awareness thing going, the next step is to start thinking about how to better meet those needs. This requires an awareness of your spouse’s inner world.
You see, in order to receive admiration from your spouse you have to be able to meet his or her needs[xii] (Harley, 2011).
If you feel for yourself that you are not being admired enough, it could be because you are not meeting your spouse’s needs properly. This is counterintuitive. But it is really empowering too, because it gives you something to do to change this problem that you are facing.
To be admired you have to do things which are worthy of admiration.
Start by becoming aware of what your spouse’s needs are. Next, determine if those needs are being met. If not, seek to meet those needs. The normal consequence of this kind of interest and effort in your spouse is admiration from your spouse.
There’s a sense in which I want to say, do not make this into too large a project. Like an event. Instead, admiration and respect should be expressed often and simply in small, everyday moments. Don’t go for epic moments…just nurture this in the everyday life of your marriage.
This helps build the fondness and admiration cycle, strengthening the marriage[xiii]. Part of this is learning to form a “habit” of admiration where spouses are constantly “scanning” the environment to notice things to admire about each other.
And don’t think this is just for happy marriages. The mental habit of looking for the good things to admire can help distressed couples too, who may be more prone to only noticing the bad things their spouses do.
So whatever the situation is in your marriage: admiration can help. Give it a shot. Let us know how it goes!
[i] Niels van de Ven, Marcel Zeelenberg, and Rik Pieters, ‘Why Envy Outperforms Admiration’, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 37.6 (2011), 784–95 <https://doi.org/10.1177/0146167211400421>.
[ii] Sara B. Algoe and Jonathan Haidt, ‘Witnessing Excellence in Action: The “Other-Praising” Emotions of Elevation, Gratitude, and Admiration’, The Journal of Positive Psychology, 4.2 (2009), 105–27 <https://doi.org/10.1080/17439760802650519>.
[iii] Algoe and Haidt.
[iv] Alyson Fearnley Shapiro, John M. Gottman, and Sybil Carrere, ‘The Baby and the Marriage: Identifying Factors That Buffer against Decline in Marital Satisfaction after the First Baby Arrives’, Journal of Family Psychology, 14.1 (2000), 59–70.
[v] Shapiro, Gottman, and Carrere.
[vi] Ven, Zeelenberg, and Pieters.
[vii] Algoe and Haidt.
[viii] Ven, Zeelenberg, and Pieters.
[ix] JOHN MORDECHAI Gottman, ‘Gottman Method Couple Therapy’, Clinical Handbook of Couple Therapy, 4.8 (2008), 138–64.
[x] Shapiro, Gottman, and Carrere.
[xi] Shapiro, Gottman, and Carrere.
[xii] Willard F. Harley Jr, His Needs, Her Needs: Building an Affair-Proof Marriage (Revell, 2011).