My wife and I like to talk about our first kiss. The first time I kissed her, it was still common for people to rent video tapes to watch movies. We had rented and watched The Empire Strikes Back, the second installment in the original Star Wars trilogy. We were in her parents’ home that evening in Eugene, Oregon, taking an 18-hour leave from our summer jobs on staff at Big Lake Youth Camp, near Sisters. That’s where we first met and had our first date.
Our First Kiss
When the movie ended, Tami lay on her back on the floor of her parents’ living room, half asleep with a pillow underneath her head. I’d been lying next to her watching Luke Skywalker’s climactic duel with Darth Vader. When I sat up a looked at her, I felt this sudden urge to kiss her on the lips. So, I did. Perhaps I’d been inspired by the scene in the movie when Han Solo and Princess Leia are arguing aboard the Millennium Falcon, and then he suddenly kisses her.
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Tami recalls being stunned and pleasantly surprised. She didn’t have a chance to return my kiss—not then. That happened a week later. But it was one of many positive firsts in our relationship that are worth remembering.
You Have Two Kinds of Memories
What we remember and the stories we tell about our marriage can affect the happiness and survival of our marriage. Couples who put a positive spin on their history are more likely to be happy. Those that emphasize the negative tone of their memories are more likely to be dissatisfied and divorce. This is one of the findings of marriage researcher Dr. John Gottman, who has studied married couples for over four decades. He writes about this particular finding in his bestselling book What Makes Love Last?
Gottman explains that our brains store two kinds of memories: explicit and implicit. An explicit memory requires conscious thought, such as remembering what you had for dinner last night, or where you went on your honeymoon. Implicit memory tends to be subconscious and allows us to do things by rote, such as taking the same route to work each day, or how to tie a shoe. Implicit memories also influence what details we focus on in our explicit memory.
Our implicit memory influences what we focus on in our explicit memories, and how we make sense out of those memories. As our implicit memory accumulates experiences, it reorganizes our explicit memories to align with how we currently experience our world. So, the memories we recall about our past can change over time as our experience colors our perspective.
The Storyline Matters…a Lot
This change in recall explains why during their courtship a couple might have considered each other’s odd habits as cute, and five years later those same habits drive them both crazy. During their courtship, they were crazy about each other. They loved how they felt when they were together. Five years later, they experience each other as nagging or critical. Being in each other’s presence feels like an intrusion of their personal space.
Many couples get stuck in a negative storyline. But if you can still recall positive memories of your history with your spouse, you can nurture the fondness you feel toward each other and strengthen your bond. If your relationship has kept a positive storyline alive, you can still add more strength to your bond. Recalling your positive experiences together nurtures fondness for each other, cultivates friendship, and adds to the love couples feel for each other. One way to do that is to take some trips down memory lane, reminiscing with each other about some of your enjoyable firsts.
Talk About These Memories
Review this list of firsts with your spouse to prime the pump, and get the memories flowing:
- The first time you saw each other.
- The first time you met.
- Your first date.
- The first time you realized you liked each other.
- The first time you held hands.
- The first time you kissed each other.
- The first time you made-out.
- The first time you realized you were in love.
- The first time you made love.
- The first time you made a home together.
As you review this list, it’s likely you’ll think of other first times. The magic is in recalling the positive details, the warm feelings that you stirred up in each other, and that you experienced the events together.
A version of this post also appeared at LifeZette.com.