How Finding Nemo can make your relationship stronger

How Finding Nemo can make your relationship stronger

I surprised my wife on Saturday by taking her to the movies to see Finding Nemo 3D.

Some surprise, you might think. A children's movie? Did you also take her to McDonald's and get her a Happy Meal?

Hold up, hold up, hold up. I had my reasons. Finding Nemo was our first movie date and our third date overall. (At least I think it was. I can remember just three relationship-related dates – the anniversary of our first date, our wedding anniversary and the date I proposed. Any other event gets plugged into either "sometime during the calendar year" or "wait, that happened?")

It was also the first night I held her hand. I even wrote a column about it for Indiana University's student newspaper, where – in the vein of great journalists such as Dave Barry and Lewis Grizzard – I spent much of my time writing silly columns.

More than nine years later, I'm still holding her hand. As such, Finding Nemo – the story of a clownfish searching for his son – always will have a special place in my heart.

So, needless to say, I was disappointed to find out the clownfish might be in peril.

According to a Los Angeles Time opinion piece:

Almost a decade after the Pixar hit Finding Nemo made clownfish seem downright warm and fuzzy, environmentalists are now looking for a real-life sequel: Saving Nemo. The Center for Biological Diversity is petitioning the National Marine Fisheries Service to extend the protections of the Endangered Species Act to the clownfish as well as several other coral reef dwellers.

The piece goes on to report that while there is no evidence of clownfish population loss, the deterioration of their coral reef homes justified the request:

In ways it makes more sense to move to protect a species when its habitat declines rather than its actual population. The backbone of the Endangered Species Act is the protection of critical habitat; without that habitat, there's almost no hope of saving an endangered animal, except perhaps in a zoo.

The same concept applies to relationships. You don't wait until the relationship is in danger to try to save it. You want to make sure your habitat is well-kept. (I'm speaking metaphorically, of course. Thoroughly cleaning your home is not the key to a healthy relationship. Though, doing the dishes on a regular basis might be.)

Happily, the movie Finding Nemo has some great advice for keeping a relationship strong throughout, including some things I try to practice in my marriage.

1. You have to work at it – Relationships just don't float along with no problems. And problems aren't solved just by sitting around in your sea anemone (or pajamas, whatever) and hoping things get better. You have to keep swimming. Talk. Listen. Act. Anything worthwhile is worth putting work into. Just keep swimming.

2. Say "yes" more times than you say "no" — Shortly after the beginning of the film, Marlin – the dad clownfish – becomes a "no" fish. He tells his son, Nemo, no. After he loses Nemo, he tells his traveling buddy, Dory, no. No, no, no, no, no. He becomes happier throughout the film by learning to say "yes." There are times in a relationship when it's easy to fall into a "no" rut. No, I don't want to go see that movie. No, I don't want to go out tonight. No, I don't want to go for a walk. As Dory might say, you essentially become a "Mr. Grumpy Gills." Relationship is a give and take, though. When your partner asks whether you want to do something with them, make a point to try to say "yes" more than you say "no" – even when they are things that don't really interest you. By the end, you'll be happier, too.

3. See things from your significant other's point of view – Marlin's trek toward becoming a "yes" fish begins when he starts to see things from the point of view of Dory and Nemo. You can be with someone for years and still not know where they're coming from unless you really stop and walk in their shoes for a bit. Suddenly, the problem with leaving the faucet dripping on a consistent basis becomes a little more clear.

4. Keep things fresh – It's up to both sides to freshen things up from time to time. Fight a shark. Ride the current with sea turtles. Hang out inside a whale. OK, maybe it's best not to get ideas on how to freshen things up from an animated fish movie.

5. Don't put a jellyfish under the covers where your significant other sleeps — They sting. Just sayin'.

• Joe Grace is a writer and journalist who lives in Chicago with his wife. He's serious about No. 5. Jellyfish aren't toys.

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