Live a grateful marriage. This is how…
Some experts believe that there is immense value in keeping a “gratitude” journal. Not only can this enrich your life, but it can change your mindset in such a way that your whole being benefits from it. Did you know that living a life of gratitude within your marriage can also bless you abundantly?
“I am so tired of his impulsiveness,” Elaine complained. Her husband, John, was one of the most exciting and unpredictable people in others’ eyes, but one could see that she was tired – emotionally utterly exhausted.
Early in their relationship, on a random Tuesday, he decided that he wanted to go and show Elaine the Eiffel Tower – and the next day, they were on their way. Another time, during his lunch hour, he walked past a jewelry shop where he saw a very beautiful ring, which he bought on the spot and that very same night, he asked Elaine to marry him. Even their wedding day was an impromptu affair – just three weeks after he asked the big question, they got married on the beach… barefoot. To outsiders, it looked like one of the most romantic marriages ever.
But John’s impulsivity was taking its toll on Elaine, whose nature is not impulsive at all. That morning, things just became too much for her to bear. “Our finances worry me – he makes impulsive purchases and then the items just gather dust in our garage. In addition, last night he decided to quit his job and start building a 3D printer. I never know what crazy idea he will have next.”
Elaine’s concern was justified, but one thing was certain – she would never change John. Deep down, she knew that, and one day, a close friend reminded her about something very important: “Elaine, do you remember that day when you and Gerald (her former boyfriend) were together for about a year? You came to me, being very unhappy, and you opened your heart. You told me at the time that that you know Gerald was your parents’ ideal son-in-law, but that you could never marry him. He was a perfectionist and his entire life was planned to the finest detail. John knocked your feet out from under you…”
And that is when Elaine had a light-bulb moment. She was focused on the bad instead of the good.
The value of gratitude
Gratitude is one of the most important ingredients for a successful marriage. In the early days of your relationship, you appreciated each other with gratitude, but over time, it is easy to start taking each other for granted. We then become blind to our partner’s good traits and only focus on the things that bother us.
A recent study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, entitled “Have You Thanked Your Spouse Today? – Felt and Expressed Gratitude Among Married Couples” involved couples that were married on average twenty years. It was found that if one partner is deeply grateful for the positive aspects regarding their spouse, or their marriage, they also experienced higher satisfaction within their marriage. Individuals that had higher levels of gratitude was also happier with their marriages. And where one partner actually expressed their gratitude, the other partner also showed more gratitude, without even being aware of the other partner’s specific opinion.
Dr Cameron Gordon, lead researcher of this study, labels gratitude as a positive characteristic, saying: “To create something positive in a marriage is very different from removing something negative. Negativity in marriage leads to the relationship eroding, but we actually know little about the effect of positivity on the maintenance of a marriage.”
This is true, and gratitude indeed leads to laughter, fun, grace and a better understanding of each other.
In another study, published in the journal Personal Relationships, researchers from the University of George interviewed a total of 468 married couples and questioned them about finance, communication strategies and how they expressed gratitude towards their partners. Again, it was found that gratitude remarkably indicated marriage quality. Couples who showed gratitude towards one another was also less likely to divorce. Feeling appreciated has a huge impact on how a person feels about his/her marriage and the individual’s dedication to make it work.
Co-author of the study, Ted Futris, says that all couples disagree and argue. “What distinguishes the marriages that last, from those that don’t, is not how much the spouses argue, but rather HOW they argue and how they treat each other on a daily basis.”
The study also found that financial stress can negatively affect marriages, but that, just by expressing appreciation for one another, this stress can be relieved. “When couples are worried about how to make ends meet, they are more likely to act in negative ways – they are more critical and defensive towards each other and can even stop talking to each other and withdraw, which then results in a lower quality marriage,” says Ted. “Gratitude, however, can break this cycle and help couples overcome negative communication patterns in their relationship, patterns which could be the result of current stress factors.”
It is not always easy to live with gratitude. Sometimes we simply don’t feel grateful and other times life is just moving too fast to focus on gratitude. But in a New York Times article, entitled Choose to be Grateful. It will Make You Happier, Arthur C. Brooks wrote that choosing gratitude can make us feel even more thankful. This is due to the fact that when we express gratitude, our brains release chemicals that reduces our stress, and make us more grateful.
In his research center, marriage expert, Dr John Gottman, also discovered that successful couples have created a culture of kindness and deliberately strive to view each other in a good light.
Habits of gratitude can start small, and in his article, Arthur writes that one should practice internal gratitude, external gratitude and then finally, gratitude for trivial things. The latter is the easiest. Being thankful for his smile, for the coffee that she woke you up with, gratitude for his warm breath in your neck on a cold night…
How do you do it?
- Be intentionally grateful.
Become more aware of the things that you appreciate about your partner and change your mindset. Instead of thinking that it is your partner’s job to do something wonderful so that you can feel grateful about it, rather see it as your responsibility to look out for something to be grateful for.
- Be generous and selfless.
Do something for your partner without them having to ask and without making a fuss about it. Have new tires fitted to her car, but don’t expect her to praise you for it. Pull the weeds out of his favorite flower bed without expecting thanks.
- Recognize and appreciate the intention and effort.
Sometimes things just don’t work out. He might have tried his best to prepare a “MasterChef” meal for your, but it had failed miserably. Respond kindly, for example by saying: “Don’t worry at all. I really appreciate what you did for me.”
- Be creative when you express gratitude.
Don’t just use the words “thank you” every time. Learn how say it in different ways. For example, say “I appreciate you”, or “I am so grateful for…” or “May you be blessed for this…”.
- Show your appreciation.
Use your body language and reaction to show your partner how much you value him/her. In the study led by Dr Cameron Gordon, it clearly emerged that couples who appreciate each other, apply active listening. When one partner is talking, the other one is clearly listening and processing what is being said (this is a way of showing your partner that you value his/her opinion).
- Make a conscious effort.
Set aside some time every day during which you pay specific attention to what is going on in your spouse’s life. Listen attentively when you ask him/her about their day.
- Focus every day on things that make your marriage work.
We are so inclined to complain about things that does not work. Make it a daily habit to move your focus to the positives and over time it will become easier to maintain this habit.
- Occasionally, express your gratitude in public.
Sometimes even the most confident of people feel insecure in public. Firstly, at home, make sure that your partner knows how grateful you are. But also make sure that he/she knows this when you are among other people.
- Keep a gratitude journal.
Write something in your journal every day and devote a specific section, for example the top right block on each page, to your marriage. In that block, write one thing about your partner that you are grateful for every day.
- The 60 Second Blessing.
Think about what you can tell your partner every day to encourage him/her. Then take one full minute (without any distractions), look your partner in the eyes and speak life. It is amazing what a simple compliment can do to make love grow. On the blog “marriage363.org”, Heather Christy wrote about one of the turning points in her marriage – when she and her partner learned about the power of speaking words of encouragement over each other.
If something as simple as a mindset, words of encouragement or gratitude can make such a big difference in your marriage, why not seize the opportunity immediately? Live a marriage of gratitude and experience change in your relationship from today onward.