Look to any guide promising the key to happiness and you’ll find the element of gratitude. It doesn’t matter who you are, or what your stage of life, if you can look around you and find something to be thankful for; you have the potential for happiness. Gratitude is a basic building block of a successful life.
In couples, this foundation is built upon appreciation for your spouse. In fact, I encourage a culture of appreciation in every couple I coach because A. It’s easy to implement and B. The results in a couple’s happiness are exponentially greater than the sum of the effort you put in.
In other words, appreciation is easy to nurture and hard to shake. When you appreciate your partner, they, you and everyone else knows it. Appreciation becomes a pillar of your relationship and supports you “through good times and bad,” as they say.
Appreciation shows up in simple, but profound ways in a relationship. The following concepts keep couples out of therapy and happily in love:
Keep “Liking” Alive vs. Loving. Ask any couple that’s been together for more than a few years: Real life takes over. The relationship starts feeling like a business revolving around work, kids, and keeping the house standing. Sometimes couples forget that they need to keep being friends and enjoying each other’s company. If you keep trying to be interesting people to each other, in the same way you tried while you were dating, the benefits surpass even those of committed love. Sounds crazy, but it’s true. Liking your partner just lightens the load.
You must invest in your partnership. Now this idea will resonate with parents or anyone who’s ever held a job. When you become a parent, you don’t say “Now that I have kids, I don’t have to work at it anymore.” Or when you land a dream job, you don’t say, “Now that I have this sweet job, I can relax.” No, most people recognize that once they’ve accepted responsibility to be part of another person or team’s life, it means it’s time to get serious about it. Focus, continuing education, commitment, and energy all come into play.
For some reason, a lot of couples don’t recognize that their new partnership or marriage is a lifelong project. They settle into a routine, and quit learning or sharing new things about themselves. It’s like they’ve peaked with the wedding ceremony and there’s nothing more to do after that. Nothing could be further than the truth! Appreciating your partner every day takes commitment and work.
Unfortunately, when you get busy (remember the job, kids, house conundrum) the marriage is the first thing you stop focusing on. It becomes the backdrop instead of an attention-getting entity. And it’s easy to take it for granted.
The way you talk matters. This one is so important to keeping the culture of appreciation alive and well. What you say, even casually, either contributes to the culture or wears it down. Remember the movie Ed TV, where the main character grew up in front of an audience of millions and every conversation was recorded and watched in real time. Super creepy, yes, but I always think about that movie at the exact moment a word I’m not quite proud of escapes my lips.
Now imagine if every thing you did and said were on view to people you care about… your kids’ teachers, your pastor, your neighbors, your boss. Would that change the quality of your dialogue with your family and spouse? If it would, then think about how that change would affect your relationships! It would be amazing if everyone suddenly had an audience for how they show up in their marriage and the words they use with their spouse and children!
This is just an idea for nicer communication. We all fall short, of course, but it’s good to remember: your words matter.
Be quick with an apology. Do you compare grievances with your partner? Do you find yourself being quick to judge who’s done whom wrong? Do you have a little competition going as to who’s suffering more, who’s pulling more weight, who’s taking more than their fair share of indulgence when there’s so much work to do? Sometimes even the most loving couples have a tally sheet stored in their memory. So here’s my challenge to tweak that competitive tendency and replace it with something that builds appreciation.
Be the first one to apologize. Be the one to always repair first, and say the right, soothing word as soon as you recognize it’s needed. Be the first one to shift your mindset from hurt to healing. Take ownership of that power and use it to cherish your partner every chance you get. You will see instant benefits to this skill.
Do nice, small things daily. Little things are a big deal in relationships that last. It can be as small as bringing your wife a cup of coffee when she wakes up, or bragging about him to your friends when he’s within earshot. If something occurs to you, just do it. If nothing occurs to you, put some effort into coming g up with a short list of ways to start. Remember, it doesn’t have to be a big deal. The smallest of gestures accumulate in a culture of appreciation.