It seems that there’s some new research showing that expressing gratitude and appreciation for your partner can make both of you happier in your relationship. While this is hardly groundbreaking news, it’s a good reminder that feeling like you’re being taken for granted is a short step from feeling resentment. Given how how much damage resentment can cause, I think that anything that keeps us from feeding that cycle is likely to be a good thing. Part of the irony is that we’re often more likely to offer thanks to a stranger or a friend than our partners or our family members. It’s as if we save our politeness for the people who are less important to us, forgetting that treating the folks who are closest to us well is essential.
My partner & I do our best to offer our appreciation and gratitude for what the other does, even if it’s just the daily chores that we’ve agreed to do. We’ll thank each other for taking out the trash, doing the dishes, or going to the grocery store. I find that knowing that my efforts have been witnessed and are appreciated makes it much easier to offer my support and my labor as an act of love.
Of course, there are times when my partner simply doesn’t see what I’ve done. That might be because she’s distracted by something else. It could be because it was one of those chores that’s invisible because it’s so ordinary. And there are some things that are only noticeable when they don’t get done or are done badly. In those situations, we’ll usually say something like, “By the way, I did the dishes before you got home.” It always results in a “thank you!” which makes us both feel better about it.
Just to be clear, calling someone’s attention to something like that works best when it’s done without anger or annoyance. The key is to assume good faith. If I don’t say anything about something that my sweetie did, she knows that it’s not because I don’t value what she does for me. That makes it a lot easier for her to let me know about it. On the flip side, I know that when she says something, she’s not doing it out of resentment (good faith, remember?). Instead, I’m aware that she’s giving me an opportunity to express my thanks.
Assuming good faith is much easier when you have a long track record of good faith. But that simply means that giving and receiving thanks needs to become a practice. We don’t have to be perfect at it, but as long as we practice consistently, our bobbles and slips will become both less frequent and less important.
For those of you who are parents, this is especially valuable for you to teach and and demonstrate to your kids. Make your gratitude visible so they can learn how to do it. Not only will you feel more appreciated by them, but they’ll also be better at building happy relationships when they get older.
If you feel any resistance to the notion of expressing explicit gratitude, or if you think that your partner knows how you feel, I really suggest giving it a try. You might be surprised at how quickly that small investment of emotional energy builds into a significant shift in your relationship.