By Toni Herbine-Blank, MS, RN, CS-P, “Couples and Individuals in Intimate Relationships” Topic Expert Contributor
Today a client reminded me that November, being the month of Thanksgiving, is about being grateful. She told me that recently, as she began feeling some real gratitude for her partner, her view of him started to change. It was a personal reminder to me about how important extending appreciation and practicing kindness are, even in hard times.
The latest research on gratitude demonstrates that it is good for your marriage and good for relationships. A 2009 research study by Nathaniel M. Lambert, Margaret S. Clark, Jared Durtschi, Frank D. Fincham, and Steven M. Graham found that
People who experience and share feelings of gratitude and appreciation with their partner rated their relationship more positively compared to only thinking appreciative thoughts about one’s mate (without vocalizing their appreciation).
These findings suggest that it is the act of communicating appreciation or gratitude that feeds positively into our relationship. In other words, we might notice our partner being generous, think about it, and feel into it, yet forget to verbalize it. The key is in speaking for the noticing.
Other recent research shows that feeling grateful enhances physical health, promotes positive reframing of negative situations, increases life satisfaction, and enhances comfort in voicing relationship concerns.
When times are hard and parts of us are struggling with the person we live with, it is sometimes a challenge to imagine that we would have any part that has anything to be grateful for in the other, let alone say something about it.
If we stop long enough to be present with these parts of us and gently ask them for some space, they just might allow us access to the gratitude and appreciation.
This is in no way a suggestion to override, dismiss, or be in denial of the parts of us that struggle in our relationships. It is, however, an invitation to make room for the rough patches and notice the instances of heartfelt connection—the moments of joy and the times when we do get our needs met.
My husband, Jordan, came up from his meditation yesterday with an insight. He said, “Remember when we got our first puppy and the breeder said, ‘This dog is not in your life to meet your emotional needs?’ Maybe it’s true for us as well. Maybe we are not required in this life to meet all of each other’s needs. What if we framed these as gifts, as kindnesses we give each other, instead of as obligations?” A great insight, don’t you think?
When we make a commitment to a relationship, our partner never agrees to meet all our needs, yet every day he or she shows up in little ways that we often miss.
Here are some helpful tips when practicing gratitude for your partner:
- Look at the small ways your partner is there for you and express your appreciation verbally. Do it when he or she is available—not as your busy, distracted parts are running out the door.
- Practice unconditional acts of appreciation. Try helping your parts let go of the need to get it back right away.
- Once a day, experiment with taking note of your parts that ARE getting their needs met and what IS working in your relationship. Then verbalize it to your partner.
Appreciation is a wonderful thing. It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.