‘Tis the season for practicing gratitude in your life. You see it everywhere during the month of November, in fact the very holiday that we celebrate encourages us to be thankful. Thankful for family, thankful for our basic needs being met and/or thankful for generally good health. There are so many things to be thankful and appreciative for.
What if you’re not in a good place in your relationship? Do you add feeling thankful for your relationship to your list? All relationships have ups and downs and ebbs and flows. When we’re feeling down or not connected to our partners, it is hard to feel thankful or want to practice gratitude for them and towards the relationship. This is the time to do it though. When you’re feeling annoyed with your partner or when you’re feeling stagnant in your relationship. That is when practicing gratitude and feeling appreciative are important and may have the strongest impact on your relationship. Feeling thankful and making a point to pause and reflect on the things going right in our lives can contribute positively to our overall feelings of happiness and contentment.
1) Make a list of all of the things that you appreciate about your partner.
If you’re struggling with this, what drew you to your partner initially? Often the traits that irritate us about our partners are what we adored about them in the beginning. Consider writing some of the things you are grateful for on post-it notes and leave them around for your partner to find, for example you could write on a post it note, “I felt considered when you took the dogs for a walk this morning when you knew I had an early meeting.” Also, try swapping a gratitude journal back and forth by writing down three things you’re grateful for each day for one week. Notice the impact these activities have.
2) Put your attitude into practice.
Gratitude isn’t just about feeling thankful, it’s about showing that you appreciate your partner as well. Write a thank you note, give a long hug or hold eye contact while sharing some reasons why you feel thankful to have this person in your life. Don’t just feel it, share it too. Remember that you’re partner isn’t a mind reader so, you may need to let them know that the hug you are giving them is because you are feeling appreciated or appreciative of them.
3) Ask your partner what you can do to help them feel cared for.
In the beginning of a relationship, we often do and say things to show our appreciation for the new love in our lives. We make them coffee, pack their lunch, send sweet text messages, carve out time to ask them about their day (and listen!), offer to clean the kitchen after they’ve cooked a meal, get them special treats when we are out at the store, offer a back massage, hold their hand or embrace them when going through a tough time. How much of this falls to the wayside after time has passed? So many couples that I see in my office have stopped taking care of each other leading to them to feel disconnected. The interesting thing is that most of us don’t stop taking care of our close friends, so why do we let the friendship die in our relationship? Start out slowly by doing three small kind things for your partner just because. Ask them to do the same for you in return. Make a point to say thank you and appreciate their effort. If you’re not sure what your partner may appreciate the most, take the “Five Love Languages Quiz” by Gary Chapman. This will help you to identify what your love language is as well as your partner’s. Some people feel loved when their partner helps around the house while others feel loved when they feel like their partner is actively listening to them and others feel most loved through physical touch, massages, holding hands, and passionate sex.
4) Commit to scheduling some time together regularly.
When was the last time you and your partner spent time together one on one? Often parents of young children report that it has been over a year. Other couples report that they go out together, but they don’t feel like they’re connecting, or they don’t have anything to talk about, or they rely on their phones to distract them from each other. Plan a night to go out together. Get a babysitter or ask a family member to watch the children if you have them. Commit to each other that you’re going to be curious about one another as people and limit your kid talk and your phone usage. Instead of dinner and a movie, try doing an activity together. The purpose of doing an activity or having a date night is to remind yourself about this person you’ve chosen to be your partner. If going outside of the house feels impossible, make a plan to set aside time to drink some hot beverages, watch a movie together or go to bed at the same time. Your goal is to have fun and work on feeling connected to your partner. Remember why you fell in love with this person. Let yourself feel appreciation and gratitude as you spend time together. If you’re not feeling warm towards them, be intentional about your thoughts. “I am grateful that they opened my door for me. I am grateful that they can make me laugh. I am grateful that they are willing to try a new activity with me. I am grateful for this time together, even if I feel it feels forced and scheduled.” Thinking grateful thoughts may help to shift your attitude.
If it has been a while since you’ve felt connected to your partner, you can get back feelings of connection and fondness. It will take time, effort and openness on both of your parts. Use the spirit of the season to help soften you towards your partner. If you are interested in trying out some of these activities with some guidance, we have a great staff of therapists at The Center For Growth who can help.