Does your marriage/relationship need first aid?
Yep, you guessed it. I am going to suggest you use gratitude. But I am not the only one who suggests it. It is a studied remedy and produces consistent results. Studies show that couples who practice gratitude are happier with their relationships and feel closer to each other, even calling it a "booster shot" for relationships. I personally love that it is non-toxic, non-invasive and free! But my favorite thing is that it is a treatment that can be used to prevent a problem or aid an already struggling relationship. It is so much stronger than just a band aid. It is a lasting treatment you can really rely on. If you have had any struggles in your relationship/marriage you will want to read on!
Let's just start by saying that no one ever rejects gratitude. It's a welcome offering any relationship can use more of. And unfortunately, we tend to focus on what a person is not doing instead of what they do well. It's that same negative bias I have talked to you about before. We look for what is wrong instead of what is right. But we can rewire that.
The renowned marriage experts and researchers, Drs. Julie and John Gottman have shown consistently that strong marriages have a ratio of at least 5:1 of positive to negative interactions. And that these expressions of gratitude help to soften the pain of negative or hurtful experiences. In "Master" marriages, they actually find a ratio of 20:1! Now, that's something to strive for!
Think about it, if your partner tells you how much they appreciate the way you made them their favorite cup of coffee or ran an errand for them on a busy week, it is going to be easier to manage when they complain to you as well. How often do you express gratitude to your partner? Or go out of your way to make sure s/he knows you really notice the things they do for you or your family?
When we practice gratitude, we start a cycle of gratitude.
Our brain releases chemicals that make us less stressed, and as a result, we can be more thankful. The more we practice it as a couple, the more we want to see our partner as someone with good intentions. This is important because the initial emotional and/or physical attraction that brings us together is not enough to sustain a relationship. We need to strengthen that foundation in a consistent way.
Our brains also are wired to look for novelty. Once we are acclimated to something, we may not notice it as strongly. So we can start to take for granted those sweet things your partner did for you from the beginning.
When we practice gratitude, it lowers our defenses.
This is also a useful thing in a relationship. Most of our conflict in a couple can come when our ego gets in the way and really creates a power struggle instead of helping us get to a perspective of understanding. If we are in a conflict with someone, we can come back to not only the gratitude we have for them (which may be more difficult in the middle of conflict), but also we can return to the understanding that they do really appreciate us. This allows those smaller conflicts to take on less meaning and power.
If any of this strikes a chord, try some simple tips to get this ratio of positive to negative interactions back in balance.
- Try a habit of texting your partner in the middle of the day about something you really appreciate. It will come as such a sweet surprise to them, especially if it's in lieu of asking them to do something on the way home! This is also a way to keep the gratitude love going even when you are apart in the day. It creates good energy for your reunion in the evening.
- Try leaving your partner a note of gratitude. Maybe in the bathroom when they are getting ready or in their lunch for a surprise at work. Last year, I purchased a small chalkboard easel for our bathroom on which I wrote the words, "I love you because..." And then we can add in anything we want at any time. It is such a sweet surprise whenever you notice it, a cute and fun thing only for the two of us to see.
- What if you share gratitude practice as a couple in the evening or before bed? And the practice can be focused on gratitude for the relationship. Commit to finding one thing every day to say thank you for and express that to each other. And just watch the good ju-ju's start flying!
- Start with a mindfulness exercise. As you go through your day, notice what your ratio of positive to negative interactions is with your partner. No judgment, just noticing. Then see if you can wake up the next day and make it better.
- Thank your partner for household chores. Researchers Jess Alberts and Angela Trethewey have studied how successful relationships don't just depend on dividing up chores, they depend on showing gratitude for the work. Remember just because someone has always done something for you doesn't mean they wouldn't appreciate hearing that it is valued. I can't tell you how many times I notice my husband has done something around the house, smile a sigh of relief it was done and then FORGET to say anything to him! Now, that's not good reinforcement!
- Be the role model. Even if your partner is not accustomed to expressing gratitude for you and you don't feel valued yet, try being the first to start the cycle of gratitude. Get it going and see how contagious it can be. (this is the good kind of contagious!)
Now, go be a gratitude warrior and see what beautiful magic can happen!