by Dr. Beverly Bird
As a long-time marriage therapist, one thing I have found to be true is this: After a few years of marriage couples let up on some of the things that came naturally when dating and first married. One of those things is the expression of gratitude for each other. It may seem small, but it’s actually a really big deal. And since I know that almost all couples need to work on this, I begin weaving it back into the relationship in the very first session and make it a homework assignment. So what do I mean by gratitude?
I think we all know the dictionary definition of gratitude, which is a feeling of being grateful or thankful. But what I am talking about here goes a little further—it’s a deep sense of appreciation for your spouse. It goes beyond the cursory thank you for picking up the dry cleaning or loading the dishwasher. Although it’s nice to hear thank you for things we get done, I like to challenge couples to dig a little deeper and offer an expression of appreciation that goes to the heart whenever possible. And it’s not okay to just think nice things—we have to say them out loud so our spouse will know!
The assignment goes like this—every night before going to bed, come together face-to-face and say, One thing I really appreciate about you is . . . and then name the quality. And I have the other spouse repeat it back, just to make sure they heard it and don’t deflect it. They will repeat, One thing you really appreciate me is . . . This only takes a minute or so but the face-to-face part is essential. It’s qualitatively different than a ”thank you” spoken from the next room. Here are some examples.
One thing I really appreciate about you is . . .
- Your ability to laugh at yourself when you make mistakes.
- Your dedication to our family.
- Your wit and sense of humor.
- Your commitment to God.
- The character qualities you model for our children.
So that you don’t stumble around when it’s time to do this at night, be thinking throughout the day of things you are grateful for in your spouse. And yes, you can do this even if you’re mad at each other for something on that day. Try to rise above that and recall some of the good.
Do you know that research tells us that when couples come to therapy for help with their relationship, they are coming for the 20 percent that isn’t working? That is great news! It means that 80 percent is working and that is something to be grateful for.