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Gratitude

Gratitude isn’t just a feel-good, warm-fuzzy sentiment we talk about this time of year. Showing gratitude and appreciation for your partner is one of the most important ways to keep a marriage strong.

Unfortunately, it’s easy to get out of the gratitude habit. We’re all stressed and busy these days, which makes us neglect to compliment and appreciate our spouses.

Another reason we may not show appreciation is that we’re around each other all the time. After you’ve been together a while, you stop noticing all the things your partner contributes to the relationship. This is because the human brain is designed to respond primarily to novelty, so you literally don’t see the whole picture of who you’re married to and start taking each other for granted.

So what’s the big deal about gratitude? Why go to all the extra effort?  Actually, the stakes for your marriage are huge.

The Case for Gratitude

  • Studies have verified that couples who show more gratitude feel closer to each other and are happier with their relationships. Researchers can even predict which couples will stay together based on how much gratitude they show each other.
  • Dr. Sara Algoe’s research shows that when one partner reported feeling more gratitude on a particular day, the other partner experienced more relationship satisfaction.
  • In my book Strong Women, Strong Love, I talk about the eye-opening work of John Gottman. Gottman studied couples he calls the Masters of Marriage (those who have been married a long time and still have a solid marriage) and the Disasters of Marriage (those headed toward divorce). Gottman found that the Masters typically have 20 positive interactions with their spouse for every negative one during a normal day (yes, that’s 20:1!). During conflict, this ratio is reduced to 5:1, but that’s still well above the 1:1 of the Disasters group.
  • We all know that housework is a sore spot for many couples, but relationship satisfaction isn’t just related to who does what chore. Research shows that expressing gratitude for the work each partner does is also important.

The Art of Appreciation

Try this exercise to get the gratitude flowing. Think about or even write down the answers to these questions.

  • What qualities do you appreciate about your husband? (Think about why you married him.)
  • When was the last time you told him you appreciate him?
  • What did you say or do? And how did he respond?
  • What’s the ratio of positive to negative interactions in your relationship?
  • What appreciation, understanding, or compliment can you genuinely express to your spouse?

When you’re frustrated and resentful, it can be tempting to say that because your husband doesn’t appreciate you, that you shouldn’t bother expressing gratitude either. Research shows that if you can get the ball rolling first by focusing on your own feelings of appreciation, you will find that the gratitude will eventually come back to you.

Let Thanksgiving be a reminder to bring more gratitude into your relationship. Keep it up and the relationship will benefit tremendously, which I hope encourages you to maintain an attitude of gratitude year-round.