How Sadness Builds a Happy Relationship

About a year after we first met, my husband took me on a sailing trip in the Caribbean. There we were, both so young and so full of lust. We couldn’t keep our hands off each other, and I couldn’t seem to keep my swimsuit bottoms on, either. Even as we snorkeled, I periodically tugged down my bottoms to moon him.

My Wedding

Whenever I look at this photo, I feel warm all over, just as I felt on my wedding day.

When I think back to those times, I’m filled with nostalgia. Oh, to be young again. Oh, to be brave again. Oh, to be filled with so much lust again.

It makes me a little weepy, you know? I’m no longer young, and, well, not-so-much lusty, either. The clock of life always marches in the same direction: forward.

Nostalgia is funny that way. It’s a sad emotion, but it’s also pleasurable. It can bring a smile to your face at the same moment it brings tears to your eyes.

And, researchers tell us, it also can make you feel more optimistic about the future, make life feel more meaningful, make us feel more connected to others, bolster our self esteem, and even make us more generous. When study participants are asked to call a nostalgic memory to mind, for instance, they are more likely to feel empathic toward people who were suffering.

In other research, participants were able to withstand having their hands submerged in icy cold water for a longer period of time if they first recalled a nostalgic event.

And in a study out of the University of Southampton, participants who listened to nostalgic music felt more optimistic about the future than participants who didn’t.

Happy Snowman

I still remember the day we built this snow dude, and how hard we were laughing as we created arms with candy canes and golf clubs.

So what does all of that have to do with creating a happy relationship? Everything, people. Everything.

Relationships aren’t always easy, right? Sure, some days you both get along, no one forgets to clean their spit off the bathroom mirror, and everyone’s happy. Other days you both grouch and complain, get into arguments over whose turn it is to fill the car with gas, and daydream about being single. Am I right?

On these harder days, it can be really easy to go on a negativity bender, quickly convincing yourself that you are all wrong for each other and never should have gotten together in the first place. One moment you are in love. The next you’re ready to call it quits. Been there?

Recalling nostalgic memories is one way to nudge yourself out of negativity. It can help you remember that all of your times together have not been as bad as having to work as a smell tester for a deodorant company. In fact, there have been some pretty good times in the past, and there will probably be some good ones in the future, too. See? Optimism.

Mix that with the empathy and the boost in self esteem that nostalgia provides and you have this: all the super powers you need to solve this pesky relationship issue so you can get back to the business of loving.

How do you do it? Here are three tactics:

  1. Keep a nostalgia diary. Jot down your good memories as they surface. That way you can flip through your diary as needed to remind yourself of all of your good times. Relive these memories, relishing as many details as you can recall.
  2. Listen to the music that was popular when you first fell in love.
  3. Flip through old photos from happier times in your relationship.

Read more of Alisa’s writing at ProjectHappilyEverAfter.com.

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