I’m sure you know that gratitude is great. But you probably aren’t aware of its ability to transform your relationship.
1️⃣ The biology of your brain’s wiring is that you will pay the most attention to negative details. You will notice and fixate on your partner’s mistakes more than the things they do well.
2️⃣ According to the attribution error, you will overestimate your contributions. You know your intentions, so you give yourself extra credit for your efforts. At the same time, you minimize the work that your partner puts in. Especially when you feel upset, you have a hard time acknowledging the ways you make the relationship harder.
These forces adds up to you feeling irritated and frustrated towards your partner. Left unchecked, you unfairly emphasize the thoughtless things your partner. And minimize their strengths. It feels like they are always messing up, letting you down, or hurting you.
When something goes wrong, you pile these frustrations, flaws, and limitations up and heap them on your spouse.
This is what automatically happens, if you let it.
Most people rely on the times when they feel loving to counterbalance this tendency.
When they FEEL loving, they ACT loving. Over time, it’s easy for that natural affection, love, and kindness to dim under the weight of your busy life. When you are in the thick of it–career building, raising kids, stress and routine–it’s easy to lose track of feeling “in love.”
When you “go with the flow” in your relationship, you are more likely to feel irritated with your spouse than loving.
Feeling irritated doesn’t tell the whole story of your relationship. The agitation doesn’t mean that you are with the wrong partner or that your love has died. It means that your brain is prioritizing the negative and overemphasizing your contributions.
You can counter this irritation with appreciation and gratitude.
When asked, most people think they do a pretty good job of saying “thank you” to their partner. They give examples of times when they acknowledge the things their partner did that were out of the ordinary or extra.
- your partner does an extra chore, or
- bails you out of a stressful situation, or
- picks up the slack when you have too much to do.
It IS important to appreciate these situations. But this will do little to curb your irritability in the day-to-day. This alone is not enough to shift the combined focus of your brain’s natural tendency to look for the negative and the attribution error.
If you want to feel loving towards your spouse everyday, you need to use gratitude intentionally. You need to notice new things that you feel grateful for each day. The easiest way to do this is to take the big things and break them down into the details. Look for the ways that your partner makes your life better.
If you say, “Thank you for working hard to support our family” it won’t be enough to counter your frustrations.
To feel good about your relationship, you need to drill down into the details.
- Thank you for getting up early everyday to go to work, even when you are tired.
- Thank you for putting up with your boss’ unreasonable demands that get on your last nerve.
- Thank you for learning new skills at work so you to get raises and promotions.
- Thank you for building relationships at work so others support your career.
To use gratitude to build your relationship, you need to get down to the nitty-gritty details. You need to identify new things every day.
➡️ Think of the 3 things that you are grateful for each day. Build this practice into your schedule so you remember to do it every day. If you do it at a specific time, it will be easier to remember. For example, while you are driving to work, brushing your teeth, or before bed.
➡️ Write 3 appreciations in a gratitude journal every day. List things that you appreciate about their character, that your partner has done, or about the relationship. Your brain processes writing differently than thoughts. As an added bonus, over time you will collect an extensive list of positive things to look back on.
➡️ Share one appreciation with your spouse every day. You will need to share something new everyday for this to be effective. This will have the most powerful positive effect on your partner’s thinking, too.
➡️ Share an appreciation about your spouse with a friend. Everyday, drop one positive example of your spouse into a discussion with someone else.
These practices rewire your brain to notice more of the positive things that your partner does. Being able to see the good things gives you a more honest picture of your relationship. Appreciating the good makes it easier to deal with the problems.
There are several common objections to this strategy of building your relationship that I frequently hear. I’ll talk about those in detail in the next post.
Using gratitude is a powerful, free, and straightforward way to shift the feelings in your relationship. When you do that, your partner feels that shift in you and they respond positively to it. They feel seen, heard, and valued because they know the things that make you happy. There are many problems that will improve solely by practicing gratitude. Give it a try to transform you and your relationship.
1️⃣ identify the places where you and your partner are getting off track,
2️⃣ try several strategies to change it, and
3️⃣ troubleshoot how well the strategy works to fix it. Sometimes there will be other issues attached to it such as relationship injuries from the past. We deal with those the same way.