What Can Gratitude Do for Your Relationship?

Senior African couple hugging on the sofaNicole and Bob sought sex therapy to resolve their lack of sex. Among the various stressors that contributed to this void, a notable one included a lack of appreciation for each other.

In session, Nicole said, “Why should I thank him for taking out the trash? He’s supposed to do that!” Her words were familiar to me. Many partners do not want to express gratitude to a significant other for the completion of ordinary daily chores.

Like them and maybe even you, my spouse and I perform various duties to help our family run smoothly. After 21 years together, we have pretty much established who does what. Our consistent expressions of gratitude serve as a marker of connection between us.

As parents, my spouse and I can feel overwhelmed, distracted, and stressed. Sometimes, a simple “Hey, hon, thanks for doing that” maintains our connection to each other amid the chaos. When we explicitly demonstrate appreciation, gratitude occupies the space where resentment could easily grow.

Nicole and Bob both felt taken for granted. Their resentments and anger consumed much of the space between them. It left no room for expressions of gratitude, let alone a vibrant sex life.

The reality of a shared life together is that either partner can choose “to do” or “to not do.” I often remind couples that any contribution a partner makes involves the choice to make it. Partners can easily choose “to not do”—to leave the dishes dirty, to neglect the yard work, to avoid the unmade bed. Partners exercise choice every day.

Knowing this, any time my partner or I choose to contribute, we are genuinely, wholeheartedly grateful. By saying thanks, we acknowledge our individual choice “to do” for us.

The reality of a shared life together is that either partner can choose “to do” or “to not do.” I often remind couples that any contribution a partner makes involves the choice to make it. Partners can easily choose “to not do”—to leave the dishes dirty, to neglect the yard work, to avoid the unmade bed. Partners exercise choice every day.

So when your partner chooses to contribute, your expression of “thanks” demonstrates gratitude. It also reinforces the behaviors you appreciate. It shows you do not take any behaviors or contributions for granted.

As part of their homework assignment, Nicole and Bob had to express gratitude to each other three times a day, every day. They were initially reluctant, but I encouraged them to treat it like an experiment without any specific expectations. After three to four weeks of this consistent practice, their anger softened and resentments began to fade into the background.

Nicole said, “Bob thanked me for things I honestly thought he never noticed,” and Bob said, “It actually felt good to hear Nicole say thanks. I felt like I wanted to do more.”

Their shared expressions of gratitude cultivated positive regard for each other. Minor disagreements no longer turned into massive feuds. Their renewed connection began to feed their libidos and spark their sex life.

If the distribution of responsibilities feels lopsided, talk with your partner about how to create balance together. Remind each other that you are on the same team. Then do the following:

  1. Discuss the role of gratitude in your relationship.
  2. Set intentions to honor your contributions by thanking each other one to three times daily.
  3. Express your gratitude with a daily, mindful hug.
  4. At the end of each day, mentally pause and note what you feel grateful for beyond your spouse’s contributions.
  5. Check back in with each other periodically and ask, “Do you feel appreciated?”
  6. Practice this for one month.

Conscious mental acknowledgement and expressions of gratitude can provide significant shifts to your daily lifestyle. Not only will it benefit your relationship, but it may renew your spirit. When you develop the habit of grateful thinking, it may become your light during life’s darkest moments.

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  • Laura

    Laura

    November 23rd, 2015 at 6:46 AM

    I have some of the same concerns that Nicole did, like why should I have to say thank you for all of the little things that we both have to do to keep the household together and running. I didn’t feel like he extended that to me so why should I for him? But I saw that once I did he would then give back to me, and so the appreciation was reciprocated all the way around.

  • otis

    otis

    November 23rd, 2015 at 10:39 AM

    This is the one thing in life that lets someone see just how much you care for them without you ever having to say a word.
    They can see that you are grateful for the things that they do for you and that is a major strengthener in many if not most relationships.

  • Craig

    Craig

    November 23rd, 2015 at 2:46 PM

    Think for just one minute what you would do without this person in your life. That makes you think about things a little differently doesn’t it?

  • Gracie

    Gracie

    November 24th, 2015 at 8:58 AM

    I try to constantly remind myself to be thankful for my friends and family every day. We too often let it go for too long not telling people just how much they mean to us. When you let those things slide then naturally the relationship will not be as strong as what it could be when you give them constant reminders that you love them.

  • Vanna

    Vanna

    November 24th, 2015 at 2:54 PM

    You get back in life that which you give right? So it only makes practical sense that if you are showing gratitude and a happier attitude toward your partner then this is what you will receive in return.

  • anne

    anne

    November 25th, 2015 at 10:04 AM

    Especially at this time of the year, you want your friends and family members to be close by. The one sure way to do that is to let them know on a daily basis just how much they mean to you and how thankful you are to have them in your life.

  • Miles

    Miles

    November 26th, 2015 at 9:35 AM

    Should I really feel it necessary to reinforce the behavior that is desirable?
    These are adults after all.

  • Pauly

    Pauly

    November 27th, 2015 at 7:37 AM

    We have always had these things that I do and the stuff that she does. I think that after a while you don’t have to necessarily say the words to thank someone for the work that they put in, but it is nice to show them with other actions and thoughts just how grateful you are that they pull their weight aorund the house. I think that we too have been through times where it felt like one was doing a little more than the other but we always made it through it because even when we were in those times there is still something unsaid between us that would show just how appreciative of the extra load that one or the other of us was carrying for the other.

  • Tess

    Tess

    November 28th, 2015 at 8:25 AM

    This is inevitably the one thing that could save a sinking ship

  • Sarah

    Sarah

    November 29th, 2015 at 1:20 PM

    There are a whole lot of days in any marriage no matter how strong you think that it is that you will feel that you are being taken for granted. We all do it, we all feel it, and there will be times that you just can’t allow yourself to get bogged down in those feelings. It is natural to get comfortable and to forget to say thanks. Those things happen, and you just have to learn to move on from them. It isn’t and shouldn’t be the end of the world for you.

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