Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. The one day per year that’s dedicated entirely to…love. We ready ourselves for the hearts and the flowers, the chocolates and the gifts. And while love is, well, lovely, February 14th also provides the perfect platform to focus on gratitude in a relationship, whether it’s your first Valentine’s Day together or your 40th.
It’s no surprise that gratitude is a practice, and there are many healthy ways to acknowledge and see the good things in your life. A gratitude practice in your relationship is a two-way street, which means you and your partner are both integral parts of this process. In other words, gratitude is relational. This perspective, this critical shift from “me” to “we” — is foundational to a supportive, healthy relationship.
- Clinical research shows that people who keep gratitude journals on a weekly basis report fewer physical health symptoms (e.g. headaches, chest pain, etc.), are more optimistic about the upcoming week, and feel better about their lives as a whole (Emmons & McCullough, 2003).
- Individuals who keep gratitude lists are more likely to make progress toward important personal goals (e.g., relationship, academic, and health-based) (Emmons & McCullough, 2003).
- People who regularly practice gratitude are more likely to offer emotional support to another, including their partner (Emmons & McCullough, 2003).
It’s clear that gratitude is important for both the heart and the head — it’s a practice not to be overlooked.
4 steps to help increase gratitude in your relationship:
Step 1: Reflect and Share
Reflect on these questions. Once you have an answer, share with your partner.
- What do I typically take for granted?
- What would my life be like without this person/circumstance that I take for granted?
- Are you grateful for something you have in your life now that you desired for a long time? Why or why not?
Step 2: Challenge the Negative Thoughts
Negative thoughts can creep into anyone’s mind, even those with the sunniest of dispositions. And it can be hard to control negative thoughts. So, what is in our control, then? You have the power to change your focus from the negative to the positive. You may ask, “Well, that makes sense, but how can I do that?” You can address negative thoughts through a simple but important three step framework:
- Notice the negative thoughts
- Question or challenge them
- Redirect those thoughts and your focus
Negative thought: “Our communication is garbage in our relationship. There is no way we can fix this!”
- Notice: You’ve taken the time to notice this negative thought and name it as such.
- Question/Challenge: You ask yourself, “Is this the case all the time? Are there any exceptions to this?”
- Redirect: You focus on parts of your communication that actually work and that you appreciate. You may think through possible ways to ask for help or improve other communication skills in your relationship.
Step 3: Practice, Practice, Practice
For most of us, gratitude is not an automatic or default mindset. If we haven’t consistently expressed or received gratitude through our family, work, or in our culture, it is easy for us to dismiss its potential and effect. Remember, gratitude is a conscious and intentional action that we have to practice.
- Look for the positive: Ask yourself when you wake up every day, “Do I choose to see the positive things that are part of our relationship, or do I choose to only see the negative?”
- Write it down: Take a few moments each day to articulate your positive observations in a gratitude journal. This exercise can be as brief as 5 minutes each day — it’s your opportunity to jot down anything that made you happy.
- Express appreciation: When you notice your partner doing something right, specifically express your appreciation. Couples who express gratitude to one another on a daily basis have happier relationships (Gottman, 2017).
- Make it a ritual: Gratitude is a great practice to make a ritual in your relationship. Dedicate a few moments each day or each week to share with your partner some of the things you recorded in your gratitude journal. Be sure to give your partner time to share a few things with you that they wrote down on their own gratitude list.
Step 4: Get Creative
Once you start identifying and sharing your gratitude, it’s time to get creative! Whether it’s as simple as expressing in-the-moment with a comment, or leaving a message under their pillow, or adding a note to their lunch box, or as bold as sending a big bouquet of flowers or taking on a much-needed house project, you and your partner can inject fun into expressing gratitude on a regular basis.
When gratitude is lacking…
If you and your partner would like a refresher on how to spark gratitude in your relationship, we can help! Reach out to us here and we’ll work with you to develop strategies around cultivating gratitude, making it a ritual or habit that you can rely on and benefit from.