One of the most underutilized practices that hold the potential to improve the quality of your intimate relationships is, surely, the practice of gratitude. The power and impact of gratitude are so incredibly available and simple, that probably many of us think it is “too good to be true”. As a result, we fail to use it.
We have the tendency to ignore what is already good about our lives and instead focus on what isn’t; or, with anticipation look towards some “future goodness” that might come to us one day (1). We rarely stop to ask ourselves:
What blessings have I received already? What kind of gifts did I get that I want to acknowledge and celebrate? What do I cherish about my life today? What happened today that I can appreciate?
Creating Opportunities to See Value in What We Have
This is especially true when it comes to our relationships with significant people in our life, such as our spouse. Many times we take our husbands/wives for granted because we assume they will be there for us no matter what. Instead, we chase after the approval and appreciation of strangers or people we don't know that well at all. We choose to invest our energy and effort to impress them in order to win their attention and sympathy. This is a way we feed our ego in an attempt to feel worthy and important.
It’s ok to occasionally seek external affirmation; there is nothing wrong with that. But if we become dependent on others to feel self-worth, and in the process neglect our loved ones, then we are risking to lose our personal power and become victims of circumstance.
One way we can ensure that we aren’t taking our partners for granted and that we are cherishing their impact and contribution is to offer them daily feedback filled with gratitude regarding the small and big value they bring to our life (2).
This way we will re-wire ourselves to notice positive, satisfying aspects of our spouses. The regular sharing of our appreciation with them will, over time, create a neurological pathway to gratitude. For a great way to enhance this neurological pathway in your marriage, see the bottom of this article. There’s a great journey you can both experience together. It will allow you to experience all the abundance gratitude can bring you and your relationship. Talk about a great gift this year!
Gratitude Changes Everything
Once we begin to notice the gifts, blessing, and qualities our loved ones are bringing to our daily life, the overall image of our marriage starts to change and shift. All of a sudden the occasional conflict isn’t lasting as long, and there are noticeably less sarcastic or ironic comments at the dinner table.
It may seem that not much has changed on the outside, in the dynamic and content of our marriage, but it somehow feels different. It feels better.
This is because we are “looking with different eyes” and noticing supportive, pleasant, satisfying, delightful moments of our everyday life that were otherwise ignored and missed. This act of noticing and recognizing allows us to become rooted in the present moment and embrace the love coming our way. It’s like living a completely different life without making any major changes.
Through Cherishing our Spouse our Own Well-being Grows
Gratitude is well known for its various benefits regarding well-being: it boosts our immune system, has a positive effect on our heart, supports the development of intelligence, creates capacity for commitment, enables and supports closeness and trust (3).
It is one of the rare gifts that simultaneously enables valuable benefits to both the giver and the receiver.
Even though everyone benefits, it is best if the practice of gratitude is shared. If you are willing to offer gratitude to your husband/wife on a daily basis, it would be crucial to ask him/her to do the same. This way you will establish an equal relationship and get constant positive feedback.
Knowing that you are bringing value to the life of your spouse will strengthen your self-esteem and support you in recognizing your strengths and virtues.
Enriching our Marriage through Intentional Acts of Love and Kindness
Once you wire your mind to notice grace, your whole attitude goes through a process of shifting towards a more positive outlook on life. The energy you get from that positive outlook is one of vitality, motivation, and inspired intentionality which serves as a healthy foundation for building and maintaining your marriage.
In his book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, the author Stephen R. Cowey introduces an interesting concept called “Emotional Bank Account”. It works like a regular bank account: we make deposits, save money, and later on, when we need to pay for something we withdraw it. An emotional bank account works pretty much the same, except we deposit and withdraw trust from the account instead of money. The status of an emotional bank account is therefore based on how safe, cherished, important, and valuable we feel with another person (4).
The more deposits made to the EBC ( Emotional Bank Account) the better the quality of the relationship. The more happiness shared, the greater intimacy enjoyed.
With a daily practice of giving gratitude, what we are doing is making constant deposits. We are strengthening the connection and balancing out the occasional unintentional withdrawal ( misunderstandings, broken promises, wrong assumptions, etc.).
As our relationship becomes a source of joy and positive experiences we become more motivated to commit and invest in it. All of a sudden we might feel the desire to compliment our spouses, offer to do a favor for them, or trust them enough to ask for a favor ourselves. We are more likely
to surprise them with a gift, or just spend quality time together feeling more relaxed than usual. Intentional acts of love and kindness start coming more easier to us and they don't present a conscious effort.
Marriage is a constant work in progress, so having the right tools on our side is crucial in ensuring the desired development (5). Is working on our marriage easy? Nope. At times it seems excruciatingly painful and complicated. Is it worth it? Absolutely. A great marriage is the best source of mental and physical well-being available to humans. Numerous studies show that positive social connections are the number one factor influencing longevity and life satisfaction.
Knowledge About the Power of Gratitude is a Contract for Marriage Improvement
After reading and understanding that there is one simple practice that, if performed daily, can substantially change the way we relate to our partner, the least we can do is give it a try. Depending on the current state of our EBC with our partner it might take more or less time before we experience the benefits of that practice.
If the Emotional Bank Account is prosperous and filled with accumulated deposits, we will feel joy and satisfaction immediately upon giving/receiving gratitude. If our EBC is depleted it might take time and patience before the relationship recovers, trust restores, and we can feel safe to allow closeness and intimacy with our partner.
One thing is sure, when we start doing something new the relationship will change and experiences that were not possible before will become available.
A Gratitude Practice a Day Keeps the Trouble Away
As previously mentioned it is crucial to keep giving and receiving gratitude on a daily basis. This constant “investment” will ensure that you are growing as a couple within your marriage. There are many ways to perform this practice, and one of the most effective routes is to take a moment before going to sleep and reflect on your day, focusing on the positive experiences that include your partner. After the brief reflection tell your partner 3 reasons why you feel grateful for him/her today. Be specific and explain exactly why this is important to you and in which ways are your partner's words or actions bringing value to your life.
Both of you should share your gratitude in order to enable a chance for exchange and equal contribution. It's important to make this a habit which takes 21 days to officially form. That's why we created our 30 Day Gratitude Challenge. It's the perfect length to keep you on track to not only starting your grateful practice, but to making sure it lasts so you experience it's real abundance unfold.
There is really no valid reason to ever stop feeling grateful and sharing that feeling with our loved ones. We are blessed, loved, and cared for beyond our comprehension and it is great to notice and acknowledge that fact. Don't you want to have that feeling every day?