By Jamie C. Williamson, PhD
During the holiday season, most of us are more intentional about having an “attitude of gratitude”. We ought to do this all year long, however, because feeling and expressing gratefulness makes us happier and more resilient, improves our relationships, and even boosts our psychological and physical health.
Adopting an “attitude of gratitude” in your marriage also has positive effects. Couples who practice gratitude together have happier marriages than those who do not practice gratitude. Research shows that couples who mutually express gratitude to each other strengthen their relationship, enhance the levels of perceived intimacy and mutual care, reinforce their sense of belonging, and bolster their levels of marital satisfaction.
Conversely, people who initiate divorce often do so because their spouse is overly critical, takes their contributions to their marriage and homelife for granted, and doesn’t seem to value who they are as a person, outside of the tasks they perform in the relationship.
You and your partner can protect your marriage from this type of erosion by adopting an “attitude of gratitude” and practicing the following four reciprocal expressions of gratitude.
1. Look for reasons to say “thank you”.
Pay attention to the contributions your partner makes to your daily routine such as cooking, making the bed, paying the bills, grocery shopping, loading the dishwasher, house cleaning, laundry, yard work, gassing up the car, and all the other little favors that make your day easier.
Stop taking these contributions for granted and instead acknowledge, value, and appreciate your partner’s role in making your life together work well. It’s as easy as saying “thank you” sincerely and frequently.
2. Show that you appreciate who your partner is to you, not just what your partner does for you.
Compliments are meaningful when they focus on behaviors and even more meaningful when they highlight the receiver’s core values. So, of course, it is important to be thankful for your partner’s hard work and acts of service to your relationship, but it is even more important to praise your partner’s virtues.
Is your partner smart, well-organized, a good storyteller, patient, empathetic, honest, funny, or a good friend? Pay attention to how your partner lives out important values and express appreciation for the kind of person your partner is to you and others.
3. Avoid public criticism and give public praise.
One of the fundamental rules in relationship communication is never to criticize your partner in public. To do so is disrespectful, embarrasses and demoralizes your partner, and erodes relational trust, intimacy, and satisfaction.
Praising your partner in public has the opposite effect. Expressing appreciation for your partner publicly shows respect and pride, and will make your partner feel appreciated, important, and loved. As a happy by-product, your partner will feel enhanced warmth toward you and your relationship.
So, take advantage of opportunities to thank or congratulate your partner in front of your children, extended family, and friends. You might even create a social media post showing your partner’s good qualities or sharing news of your partner’s success.
4. Act grateful and show appreciation every day.
Do small things often, rather than just isolated grand gestures. These small loving actions speak louder than words when it comes to making your partner feel loved and appreciated.
Bring your partner a cup of coffee. Make her favorite meal. Send a text message of encouragement when you know your partner has a presentation, an important meeting, or a long day. Send heart emojis when you text the grocery list. Draw a heart on a post-it and leave it on your partner’s windshield or stick it on the bathroom mirror. Look for ways to do little favors for your partner every day.
Small, from-the-heart expressions of love and support send consistently authentic messages of love and appreciation and so they mean much more than a once-a-year candlelit dinner or perfunctory bouquet of roses on special occasions.
These four approaches to practicing gratitude will help you and your partner avoid taking each other for granted and keep you on a satisfying relationship path. So, as you begin the season of love and joy this year, why not adopt an “attitude of gratitude” and incorporate these acts into your holiday preparations? If you do, you’ll more likely experience the true measure of the Season.
Let me know if I can help.
You’ll find me at Amity Mediation Workshop, LLC, where we specialize in “friendly divorce” mediation and psycho-educational marriage revitalization sessions and programs using a practical, psycho-educational approach grounded in the Gottman Method. I also speak frequently on relationship topics and author the blog “Work it Out”.