This piece was originally published on Gottman.com and is republished here with permission from the Gottman Institute.
How a simple “thank you” can create connection
As a couple, did you know that you’re not required to do nice things for each other? Did you know you don’t have to want to do those things?
It’s true. That’s why anything you or your partner do for each other is a gift.
While many of my clients give me the side-eye when I say this in session, they quickly realize it’s a true statement. They do things for each other out of a sense of obligation or guilt. Disconnection and repeated negative patterns of conflict wear them down, and they go through the motions of the relationship because they believe it’s what they should do. These couples sometimes end up performing acts of service for each other versus gifting from a space of gratitude motivated by contentment.
ARE YOU IN NEGATIVE SENTIMENT OVERRIDE?
Sometimes couples are in a state of negative sentiment override where they assume the worst about each other’s intentions. They want to feel connected and seen by their partner but instead have their partner turn away from their bids for attention. As a result, it can feel harder for them to envision how they might regain a sense of gratitude for one another. However, it only takes one person initiating action to trigger a positive impact on the relationship. Showing and expressing gratitude can be that one small step to putting the relationship back on course.
SHARE FONDNESS AND ADMIRATION
Sharing fondness and admiration is something that even the most contemptuous and emotionally disconnected couples can easily manage to work into their relationship. Showing gratitude for your partner’s gifts can be as simple as saying thank you for cooking a delicious meal or acknowledging they did something kind for you. Sharing fondness and admiration can also sound like letting your partner know you are proud of them and admire who they are.
At first, this might sound disingenuous if there have been negative feelings in the relationship for a while. However, remember why you fell in love with your partner. Hopefully, you can recall that at one point in your relationship all these things used to be truly how you felt.
Can you dust off a positive perspective about your partner and remind them (and yourself) why you are grateful to be in this relationship?
Showing appreciation and fondness to your partner may be unfamiliar for you. Gratitude will gain momentum in your relationship over time and with a regular commitment to noticing and articulating the things that you are grateful for about your partner. Your partner, who might at first be wary of the intentions behind the fond words, will relax into their own sharing of appreciation for the work you are doing to make a shift in the tone of the relationship. Don’t be surprised if rather quickly you start to receive reciprocal appreciation.
One piece of homework I give to my clients is to get into the habit of ending the day by telling each other the five best things that happened in their day. Talking through the events of the day and reflecting on how they turned out better than they anticipated creates a ritual of connection around gratitude. Acknowledging how each partner played a role creates a sense of connection and mutually shared gratitude. Couples who acknowledge that they share a life that has value, resilience, and mutual support help foster an authentic daily practice of appreciation for the connection the partners create as a team that wouldn’t exist without each other.
Attend the Art and Science of Love virtual event workshop December 4-5 and learn how to share fondness, admiration, and so much more. Register today!