Gratitude has been trending across the globe lately, and for good reason. But the actual practice of gratitude is way more intentional than slapping #blessed on your social media post. Gratitude is a mindfulness technique that brings your awareness to the good things in life by expressing your appreciation for those gifts. The more you flood your awareness with things you appreciate, the less you dwell on the negatives. Undeniably, practicing gratitude is a powerful tool that can produce a wide range of highly desirable effects.
From improving mental and physical health to increasing career successes, this simple yet effective practice has a seemingly bottomless bucket of benefits. Fortunately, those benefits don’t stop at the bedroom door. Being grateful for your own body, sexuality, and self positively impacts your self-image and self-esteem – this gratitude is a crucial component of feeling fully present during intimacy. Additionally, it has been proven that feeling appreciated by your partner increases overall relationship satisfaction. Let’s dig in a little deeper.
Gratitude for yourself
Harboring less-than-stellar thoughts about yourself is a surefire way to keep you (and your partner) from experiencing a more satisfying sex life. Let’s take body image, for example. It’s undeniable that our society perpetuates the notion of an ideal body type, causing us to find and be negatively impacted by numerous “flaws” in our bodies. Sometimes, without realizing, our internal chatter sounds like Negative Nancy won’t share the microphone. This negative self-talk has a profound impact on a person’s sexual satisfaction. Instead of feeling present during intimate moments, their thoughts are consumed with worry about their “flaws” that Negative Nancy keeps mentioning.
What’s something you can do to improve your perception of yourself? You guessed it: practicing gratitude!
Showing gratitude for and to yourself, as silly and forced as it may initially feel, is an effective way to overcome the negative self-talk that many of us experience. In the case of our body image example, I’d suggest that this person take a moment every day to intentionally express appreciation to their physical body. Some examples are:
- I am grateful for my good health and mobility
- I love the pleasure my body gives me in response to sensual touch
- I appreciate my body as a comfortable home for my soul
I encourage you to do this with your sexuality, too. The extremely vulnerable nature of one’s sexuality is highly suspect to the overwhelming abundance of destructive messages touted by media and an indisputable lack of sex-positive education. We learn and internalize unrealistic and inaccurate beliefs starting at an alarmingly young age, allowing plenty of time for them to nestle in and prevent us from fully realizing and enjoying our sexual potential. Practicing gratitude is an easy step in reversing the harmful thought patterns that have ingrained in our minds. Here are some phrases to help you connect more positively with your sexuality:
- I’m thankful for my sexual curiosities that have taught me about my own desires
- I am so grateful that I can trust myself to know my limits
- I have gratitude for feeling empowered in my sexual exploration
You don’t need to spend a lot of time practicing gratitude. Researchers in 2003 studied the effects of journaling gratitude over the course of 9 weeks. They found that writing in a gratitude journal for 5 minutes on a weekly basis can increase your optimism by 5 percent. Do it daily, and that percentage goes up to 15. Imagine how your self-image and self-esteem might improve if you spent a mere 5 minutes every day writing down the gratitude you feel for your body and self.
Gratitude for your partner
For many folks, especially those in long-term relationships, expressing gratitude to your partner is something that naturally declines over time. When you first started dating, you probably thanked him for taking you out to dinner, or maybe you told her how much you appreciate her sense of humor. The longer we are exposed to our partner, the easier it is to take them for granted, and the less we express gratitude to them.
It might feel unnecessary or cheesy to thank your partner for doing the dishes, a chore that she has handled for the past eight years. However, when each person in the relationship feels appreciated by the other, they are encouraged to maintain a close relationship. In 2020, researchers found that gratitude improves a couple’s sexual communal strength (SCS), which refers to the extent to which partners are motivated to respond to each other’s sexual needs. As sexual beings, we crave our partner’s desire, affection, eagerness, and willingness to engage in intimate connections with us. More gratitude yields better SCS, resulting in higher sexual satisfaction.
Not surprisingly, expressing gratitude in a relationship works best when both partners in the relationship actively show appreciation. What happens when you don’t express gratitude to your partner? A 2019 study suggests that even when one spouse in a marriage expresses and feels low levels of gratitude, it acts as a “weak link” and can rapidly decrease the overall relationship satisfaction for both individual partners. To summarize these findings, if you feel appreciated by your spouse, and your spouse feels appreciated by you, you’re in excellent shape for you both to report a more satisfying marriage. If at least one of you doesn’t feel appreciated, you both should anticipate a decline in marital satisfaction, no matter how the other one feels. That’s powerful!
It’s important to remain genuine with your gratitude, since simply telling your partner what you think they want to hear is both hollow and ineffective. If you’re stuck, start by noticing what your partner says and does, or how your life is easier or more enjoyable because of them. Consider these statements:
- Thank you for being such a great listener
- I appreciate all the work you do for our family that goes unnoticed
- I’m so grateful to have a spouse who cares for me
- I value your companionship
- You let me be me, and I’m very thankful for that
It’s called “practicing” gratitude for a reason
Although you may feel an immediate upliftment when expressing gratitude, don’t expect to obtain lasting effects after just one go. Gratitude is akin to exercising a muscle; doing so builds and strengthens over time. Try working this into your routine. Some folks prefer to begin their day with naming a few things they are grateful for, while others make a list before going to sleep. Set a gratitude journal on your bedside table as a visual reminder, if that helps. Perhaps think of 3-5 things while brushing your teeth every morning. The more you practice appreciating the positives in your life, the more you will internalize the good things.
We’re a group of therapists and we can help you and your partner prioritize gratitude and communication. If you live in Arizona, North Carolina, South Carolina, or Texas, we can help you. Contact us to get started.
*This blog post was written by guest writer and sexologist, Liz Mallers. Liz is located in Charlotte, North Carolina, and provides virtual services for couples wanting to improve their sexual health. Connect with her on Instagram @lizthesexpert.