It is easy to take people for granted. We don’t mean to do it, but often we fall into expecting our spouses to do what satisfies us. We stop saying please and thank you, we stop acknowledging how special our mate really is. We get so caught up in the daily routine that we don’t stop to feel and express appreciation.
One of the single most important attitudes in marriage is a pattern of looking for the good and positive in each other. The reality is that if one is looking for the good - - - - that is what will be seen. The converse is also true, if the negatives are the center of attention and focus, then that is what will be seen. One of the characteristics of a successful marriage is where the focus is on the good things that can be appreciated. Unfortunately, it can become easy to notice all that our spouse doesn’t do, while focusing on the positives may require a conscious decision. Criticism tears down a marriage, while appreciation builds up and strengthens a relationship.
Research on marriage conducted by Dr. John Gottman at the Family Research Lab at the University of Washington has found that happily married couples make five times as many positive statements to and about each other and their relationship than negative ones. A good marriage has a positive attitude where affirmations and appreciations are expressed. Dr. Gottman advices couples to “cultivate a culture of appreciation” where there are many acts of fondness, admiration, gratitude and positive sentiment. A positive attitude enables a marriage to better cope with stress, conflict, disappointment, and other negative influences.
Appreciations can take different forms. Acknowledgement for what we do – both the little and the big things is important. Communicate to your spouse that you recognize their contributions that make life better. Affirmations is where a spouse is reminded how important they are and how deeply a connection and commitment is felt. Adoration where there is a genuine expression of admiration and affection, and is another important type of appreciation. It is easy to fall into the “they know how I feel” excuse. However, do any of us tire of being reminded of our importance and value to others? Another form of appreciation comes with Acceptance. None of us are perfect and none are married to perfect spouses. Acceptance is a true appreciation of differences without the intention to change our spouses to be more like us.
Appreciations are most effectively expressed when they are specific. A verbal expression of appreciation or “thank you” is sometimes all that is needed, but a written card or note, flowers, or an embrace can make the thought more special and effective.
The single best advice for a happy marital relationship is to “be the spouse you wish you were married to”. In my work over the past 25 years with hundreds of couples, I have found this simple guideline to be the most effective. Waiting for change from your partner before committing to personal effort is doomed to failure.
If you and your spouse feel stuck – get help! Most couples struggle unnecessarily for years before seeking help. While only 1% will contact a professional for assistance, many more will end their marriage or settle for a marriage that is unhappy. To learn more about what makes marriage work, read The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work (Three Rivers Press, 2000) by John Gottman, Ph.D. This is an important resource for troubled marriages and for good marriages that want to be better. It is never too late to have the marriage you want.