I have a challenge for you that want a happy marriage. An alternative this season to the lure of the incessant advertisers and retailers, trying to convince us we don’t already have what we need to be happy.
What would our lives be like if we practiced gratitude as a regular habit? More specifically, what if we focused on our spouse, and made it our intention to verbalize gratitude for what they mean to us? Like, for a whole year? How would this, by extension, impact our families & communities?
Not just one day
Here we are on the verge of Thanksgiving—that day where we gather as friends and family, eat too much, watch a lot of football, eat again, manage family dust ups that often surface during times of high expectations (cue weddings, Christmas, Hanukkah, Easter, funerals)—you get the picture. We’ve ALL been there. Oh, yea, and give thanks. See what just happened? The “thanks” giving part was almost an afterthought.
The retailers would have us believe it’s just a day to get out of the way so we can get on to Black Friday shopping, and more football. And maybe a leftover turkey sandwich. But it's so much more than that.
Research on gratitude
I’ve done a little research—well, not an actual study—more like me and google, looking at what OTHERS have researched, and found some interesting things about gratitude and marriage.
Did you know that people who focus on gratitude are happier, healthier, and, wait for it— more likely to have a happy marriage? (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/between-you-and-me/201212/giving-the-gift-gratitude). It’s been said that we find what we’re looking for. If we’re looking for things that our partner does that irritate us, we can come up with a long list in short order. But if we shift our focus to finding good things, they are there in abundance. By shifting our focus to affirm the positive and thoughtful things our spouse does, we reinforce those behaviors, making them more likely to be repeated.
Trisha Harp (www.harpfamilyinstitute.com) has spent her career to date researching entrepreneur marriages, to identify what differentiates happy marriages from unhappy ones. Her research found 5 practices common in thriving marriages, one of which is that couples who show genuine appreciation for the contributions of their spouse were happier than couples who don’t. Seems kind of obvious, but it requires intentional effort on a regular basis.
Getting more of what we want
We really never outgrow the need for affirmation. It’s a well known behavioral fact that you will get more of something when you acknowledge and reinforce it. If you want a behavior to go away, ignoring it is one way to accomplish that. This is why so many couples find themselves feeling distant, or disconnected. We unintentionally begin to take for granted the loving, thoughtful little things we do for each other. And it is the little things that matter, not the Lexus and a new puppy, tied up with bows.
So with Thanksgiving as our warm up, let’s see if we can be creative and become more intentional about showing appreciation. More than “thanks for doing the dishes”, though that’s a good start, let’s slow down and really dig in.
Gratitude in action
Here are a few ideas for starters…
- Can you imagine what life would be like without your partner? Not trying to be morbid, but if you value something, then you don’t want to take it for granted. Take a few minutes to list what you would be missing, then thank them, as specifically as you can, for the good things you have together. Heck make it a competition if you wan. See who can “out compliment” the other. Rewards are optional, and completely private. 🙂
- Start a gratitude journal, if you haven’t already. It can be a basic notebook, or a leather journal, matters not. The point is to write down what you are grateful for, individually and as a couple. Over the years, this will become a treasure, reminding you of all the good things that have come through your life.
- Gratitude jar—every time you recognize something that you are grateful for, write it on a slip of paper and drop it in the jar. I read about a couple that would empty the contents on New Year’s Eve, reading through all the notes from the year as a way of reminding each other of answered prayers, provision, or things they had been through.
- This one may take a little more courage—share some of your gratitude for your spouse in front of family and friends. Thanksgiving is a perfect time for this. Honoring your spouse publicly is a gift they won’t be expecting.
Let us know how it goes in the comments, or add your ideas.
[reminder]How did your spouse respond when you expressed gratitude for them?[/reminder]