A feeling of being underappreciated is one of the chief complaints I hear when working with couples. Both men and women commonly tell me that their loved ones seem to take their efforts for granted. A sense of not being appreciated can take a toll on even the best of marriages.
A meaningful expression of gratitude can signify deep respect and appreciation for the efforts—large or small—of another person. Partners feel valued and encouraged when their actions are noticed and appreciated. Studies show that couples who focus on consistently and genuinely expressing gratitude have healthier and longer-lasting relationships. If your relationship is suffering from a lack of mutual appreciation, read on.
We are socialized to express gratitude, yet it seems that an attitude of thankfulness often goes by the wayside within our most intimate personal relationships. A “thank you” would automatically pop out if a stranger opened a door, yet the same words of gratitude might not be expressed to a loved one. An employee wouldn’t think of forgetting to thank the boss for even the small gesture of appreciation, yet we might neglect to tell our partner how grateful we are for their support in getting through each and every workweek. Noticing—and expressing gratitude for—the little things that are done within a relationship makes the biggest difference in the quality of a loving relationship.
When a relationship is new, it is easy to focus on the positive and remember all the things we adore about our sweetheart. From that special first date through the romance that follows, we tend to focus on our partner’s charms. Expressing sweet gratitude for a dozen crimson roses or a delicious home-cooked meal is de rigueur during the early stages of a relationship. If we aren’t careful, we can forget to hone in on the wonderful things that our loved ones do for us and, instead, focus on the few issues that cause irritation. Before we know it, we no longer say “thank you” for that fresh load of laundry or that steaming cup of coffee. Rather than giving thanks for a morning hug and kiss, it’s the dirty socks or half-empty fridge that get extra attention. The sad result is that we end up seeing the proverbial glass as half empty rather than beautifully half full.
Why is it that we allow appreciation to wane in our most precious relationships? The good news and bad news is that it’s all a matter of habit. From a neuropsychological perspective, nerve synapses that are not used often are eliminated while those that are in regular use have strong, efficient connections. As a result, any action that we perform repeatedly becomes a well-honed habit. Behaviors that we allow to languish die off from lack of use. This is simply how the human brain is wired to perform. Whatever action we support through repetition becomes prominent and routine. The habit of expressing appreciation works the same way as any other behavior; the more you try it, the more you’ll do it.
Expressing heartfelt gratitude becomes easy once it becomes part of your routine. Like any behavior, showing loving appreciation can become a familiar habit if it is practiced regularly. Take a moment to read the following simple steps. Print them out, post them to a wall, and focus on finding ways to bring these tips to life within your own marriage. The more you use the habit of appreciation, the more your relationship will blossom into a healthy, vibrant reflection of your love and gratitude for each other!
1. Notice the Good:
Instead of noticing what might be “wrong,” take a moment to notice all of the wonderful things that your loved one does for you. Whether your breakfast is made, bathroom is tidied, a new venture is supported, or your tired forehead is kissed, notice the things—small and large—that bless your world. Begin to truly notice all that is right, good, and abundant in your world!
2. Listen Attentively:
Studies show that active, genuine listening is a key component in healthy relationships. As you listen to your partner talk, make good eye contact, don’t interrupt, focus your attention on the conversation, and respond with thoughtfulness. Communicating in this way not only reflects a caring attitude, it also reinforces the fact that you value and appreciate what your partner has to say! When your communication flows back and forth in this manner, both partners end up feeling heard. The result is a relationship that is grounded in mutual respect, understanding, and gratitude!
3. Learn It:
Try to learn—and use—the “language of appreciation” that your spouse truly responds to and notices. Cultivate an attitude of awareness to bring you more in tune with what would make your partner feel truly appreciated. Some people feel affirmed by oral words of thanks while others respond with delight to a sweet note of gratitude tucked in a purse or posted on the bathroom window. One spouse may feel appreciated through affectionate touch, while the other partner may respond better to a “thank you” plate of homemade cookies. Take note of what makes your partner feel valued. Once you learn what evokes a positive, appreciative response in your sweetheart, you can show your gratitude in ways that will be noticed and felt!
4. Take Action:
It’s great to take notice of all that your partner does for you, yet it is vital that you show your gratitude with sincere and concrete expressions of thanks. Take the time to express your appreciation with a thoughtful word, a warm embrace, or a heart-melting kiss. You can even surprise your sweetheart with a mailed “thank you” note now and again. Genuine, appreciative gestures go a long way toward reinforcing positive relationship patterns.
5. Live It:
Nothing is more powerful than loving gratitude in action. Touch connects us to our partners in a way that words cannot do. Get into the habit of holding your sweetheart’s hand. Remember to offer extra hugs and kisses. Don’t forget the power of your gentle touch upon your partner’s cheek, back, or arms. Make it a routine to take a daily “appreciation walk” with your darling. Carve out quiet time where you can remember that gratitude is a “way of being.” When you and your spouse make time and space to notice all that there is to be grateful for in your life, this appreciation will become a core part of your relationship.
6. Share It:
Gratitude is linked to having a more positive state of mental health. The more we live from a place of gratitude the better we feel. When you bring gratitude into your marriage, your home life is positively affected. Children notice when their parents are appreciative of each other. When gratitude is a core value within the home the focus is on the blessings and abundance that are present—rather than on the next series of “must have” material items. When you share and spread gratitude from inside of your home and beyond, your most intimate relationships naturally grow, strengthen, and blossom.
7. Reach Out:
If you’ve really fallen out of the habit of expressing appreciation, you might want to lean on a therapist, minister, or support group to get things back on track. If negative patterns have become too hard-wired, the insights from a neutral third party might be just what you need to get your relationship back on a positive track.
The healthiest, most satisfying relationships reflect an abundance of gratitude. Remember that it takes only a moment or two to show heartfelt thanks. Get into the daily habit of expressing appreciation for all that your sweetheart does for you. The reward—a lifetime relationship steeped in love and respectful gratitude—is well worth the effort.