Why St Valentine should be more like Thanksgiving
Wait! Have you appreciated your partner, today?
Well, if you haven’t, you should do that right away. Did you know that expressing gratitude to your romantic partner has many benefits in building your relationship?
This has been proven over the years through several pieces of research, some of which are sighted in this article, so, stick around.Often, when couples come to my office for counseling, I realize that the root of most of the problems is simply the lack of appreciation and gratitude in the relationship.
Sometimes, it’s just the little day to day activities that go unappreciated. At other times, it’s life-changing actions that were not noticed and appreciated. 'This results in a deep feeling of being taken for granted and unappreciated, thereby, becoming the root of the problem many are facing in their relationship.
During one of my sessions, a wife tells me, “I work full time and then go shopping, pick up the kids, make dinner and by the time he gets home, he just doesn’t see all I’ve done and just sits at the table and eats. I need some acknowledgment!”
One husband says, “I moved to her hometown because she wanted to raise a family near her parents. I left my job in a company full of possibilities. That was ten years ago, but I never really felt appreciated for the sacrifice.”
Gratitude is a basic element of a happy, loving relationship. According to a study conducted by Sara Algoe and her colleagues at the University of North Carolina, gratitude in a relationship increases the connection and satisfaction for both the receiver and the one who expresses it. In fact, they argue that gratitude might act as a booster shot for the relationship. Their research shows that expressing gratitude for simple, everyday interpersonal gestures is enough for an increase in the relationship quality.
For Nathaniel Lambert and colleagues from Florida State University, expressing gratitude to a partner enhances one’s perception of the sense of responsibility for a partner’s welfare. Another benefit of expressing gratitude in a relationship is that those expressions go hand in hand with the ease of voicing relationship concerns, which leads to good relationship maintenance, as another research study by Nathaniel Lambert shows. Gordon, Arnette, and Smith, from the University of North Carolina, published a study which highlights that when both partners express heartfelt gratitude, it is a show of marital satisfaction.
Exercises You Can Do
If you’re having unresolved issues of gratitude with your partner, here are a few but effective gratitude exercises you can start today for a better relationship:
1. Build a culture of appreciation. Happy couples look for opportunities to appreciate each other, especially, through daily actions that communicate warmth and affection in a consistent way.
In this exercise created by the Gottman Institute, you need to find three characteristics you appreciate about your partner from a long list (Loving, Sensitive, Brave, Intelligent, Thoughtful, Generous, Loyal, Truthful, Strong, Energetic, Sexy, Decisive… and many more). Then you need to recall an incident in which those three characteristics were shown. Write about them and share what you have written with your partner. Building a culture of appreciation in your relationship requires some conscious effort and this is one of such.
2. Write a love letter of gratitude. This is a variation of an exercise called the Gratitude Visit, created by Seligman, Steen, and Peterson for a 2005 study in which participants were given one week to write and then deliver a letter of gratitude in person to someone who had been specially kind to them but had never been properly appreciated. Participants showed higher levels of well-being even a month after the visit. In this case, the gratitude letter becomes a love letter of gratitude. Express here your gratitude to your partner and read the letter in person.
3. Count your blessings and write about them. Developed from the 2003 research by Emmons and McCollough in which participants listed at the end of the day things they were grateful for, Emmons expands later in his book Gratitude Works!: A 21-Day Program for Creating Emotional Prosperity that the benefits of this exercise are much greater when we elaborate on the things we are grateful for. For example, instead of saying only, “I am grateful that you brought me coffee today”, you can say, “I am grateful that you brought me coffee because it allowed me to stay a little longer in bed listening to music, instead of having to rush out of bed, and that made me feel relaxed and happy.”
4. Give a daily dose of gratitude. Tara Fields, in her book The Love Fix, gives advice for couples who have grown apart and want to revitalize the relationship. One of the key tips is to “give your spouse or partner a Daily Dose of Gratitude”. She says that just by finding one nice thing to say to your spouse or partner face-to-face every day you will grow more connected.
5. Keep memories. Take pictures for a week of something you are grateful for related to your partner. This exercise is based on my own research, in which participants who took one to three pictures a day for a week of things they were grateful for increased their well-being. Here you would have to take pictures of things that are related to your relationship for a week. For example, if your partner remembered to stop at the store to buy the dishwasher, you can take a picture of the dishwasher. If your partner is playing with your child and having fun and that makes you feel grateful, take a picture of that scene. It doesn’t need to be a great picture but taken with a gratitude intention.
How to Express Gratitude the Right Way
Susan and James Pawelski, in their recent book Happy Together, devote a whole chapter to the subject of gratitude in a committed relationship. They explain that just expressing gratitude, is not enough, it has to be done the right way to be effective. That means:
The expression of gratitude needs to be other-focused rather than self-focused. That means, emphasize the giver and her qualities, not the gift. Praise your partner’s qualities, not how you benefit from them.
Be authentic. Your partner needs to feel that you are really grateful and that gratitude comes from your heart.
The expression of gratitude needs to be sensitive to what your partner likes and needs at this particular moment.
Last but Not Least: Take It
For some people, it’s hard to openly accept expressions of gratitude, same as complements. They might feel uncomfortable. Well, the book Happy Together has some guidelines on this issue as well.
1. Avoid being dismissive. The authors call this deflection, meaning that the receiver brushes off the gratitude. When you get a true, authentic expression of gratitude, sit with it, take it and appreciate it.
2. Avoid cutting it short, play down or jumping to appreciate the other person for something else (what they call reciprocation). If you tend to do this, reflect for a minute if you feel the other person is in debt to you when they express gratitude. Do you feel guilty, uncomfortable or selfish?
3. Do not answer with negativity, failings or complains. What they call discounting. Instead of those answers, the receiver needs to just accept the expression of gratitude. Take it, let it sink in, do not fight it. And to fully receive what your partner is giving you, take it deeply and savor it, and if possible, use it as an opportunity for further connection.
In all, feeling appreciated starts with you. Appreciate yourself and your life first, then, you can extend the depth of warm gratitude and appreciation to your partner and grow your relationship.
Sara B. Algoe, Shelly L. Gable, and Nataly C. Maisel, "It’s the little things: Everyday gratitude as a booster shot for romantic relationships," Personal Relationships, 17 (2010), 217–233.
Nathaniel M. Lambert, Margaret S. Clark, Jared Durtschi, Frank D. Fincham, and Steven M. Graham, "Benefits of Expressing Gratitude: Expressing Gratitude to a Partner Changes One’s View of the Relationship," Psychological Science OnlineFirst, March 5, 2010.
Nathaniel M. Lambert and Frank D. Fincham, "Expressing Gratitude to a Partner Leads to More Relationship Maintenance Behavior," Emotion (2011), Vol. 11, No. 1, 52– 60.
Cameron L. Gordon, Robyn A.M. Arnette, Rachel E. Smith, "Have you thanked your spouse today?: Felt and expressed gratitude among married couples," Personality and Individual Differences 50 (2011), 339 - 343.
Ellie .L. Weekend Homework Assignment: Build a Culture of Appreciation [Web Blog Post].
Ellie .L. Weekend Homework Assignment: Creating A Culture of Appreciation [Web Blog Post].
Martin E. P. Seligman & Tracy A. Steen, and Christopher Peterson, "Positive Psychology Progress: Empirical Validation of Interventions," Positive Psychology, April 22, 2005.
Robert A. Emmons and Michael E. McCulloug, "Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (2003) Vol. 84, No. 2, 377–389.
Robert A. Emmons (2013). Gratitude Works!: A 21-Day Program for Creating Emotional Prosperity.
Tara Fields PhD (2015). The Love Fix: Repair and Restore Your Relationship Right Now.
Suzann Pileggi Pawelski MAPP, and James O. Pawelski PhD (2018). Happy Together: Using the Science of Positive Psychology to Build Love That Lasts.