Improving Your Relationship with Gratitude

by | Gratitude, Relationships

It may not come as a surprise that happy couples experience more positive than negative interactions. Dr. John Gottman, who has spent years researching what separates marital stability from divorce, was able to come up with what he calls the “magic ratio” of 5:1. According to Gottman, happy couples have 5 (or more) positive interactions for every negative interaction. Over time, it’s easy to fall into a routine of expecting your partner’s positive contributions and only speaking up when you feel that they’ve let you down. If your relationship is falling short of the magic ratio, practicing gratitude is one of the simplest ways to begin strengthening your relationship and increasing positive interactions.

Gratitude means showing appreciation for the things in your life that are meaningful and valuable. Practicing gratitude for our partner strengthens the neural pathways in our brain that recognize good fortune and abundance, making us more likely to see the goodness in our partner and relationship. Showing appreciation for our partner leads to deeper love and connection, and opens the door to more positive interactions in the future. If you’ve already heard 5 grateful comments from your partner during the day, it’s much easier during a negative interaction to remember that your partner appreciates you and is on your team.

Tips for practicing gratitude in your relationship:

  1. Set a daily intention – Setting an intention is an effective way to prime your brain to scan for positivity. You might find it helpful to start your day by setting a relational intention like “I intend to recognize the positive in every situation” or “I intend to witness my partner’s love with an open and grateful heart.”
  2. Keep a list – Whether you keep a journal or just an open note on your phone, taking the extra step to write down the things your partner does that bring you gratitude helps to keep them front of mind.
  3. Be specific – When you want to show appreciation to your partner, don’t just thank them for their actions. Gratitude is more meaningful when you take the time to identify what the action means about your partner’s character. For example, it’s more meaningful to hear “I noticed that you picked up my favorite ice cream. I appreciate how thoughtful and generous you are,” than it is to hear “Thanks for going to the grocery store.”
  4. Use visual reminders – Visual reminders like leaving your appreciation for your partner on a sticky note or sending appreciation in a text with a picture attached can be especially meaningful.
  5. Practice mindfulness – When we are attuned to our partner, it’s easier to recognize their positive qualities and connect with them. Consider a small attunement ritual, like a 60 second hug or 10 second kiss to bring your attention to the present moment with your partner before you share your appreciation.
  6. Remember the flip-side – If you’ve been in the habit of noticing your partner’s mistakes more than their attributes, it’s going to take some time before gratitude becomes your default. If you have a negative thought about your partner, try to think of a positive reframe. Many of the qualities in our partner that frustrate us are the flip-side of a quality that attracted us to them in the first place!
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