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Dr. Margaret Rutherford Headshot

The 2 Simple Words That Will Improve Your Marriage

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My husband has a lot more patience than I do.

So he does a lot of the things around the house that require that particular virtue.

Like filling up the little pump thing to the left of the kitchen faucet that holds dishwashing liquid. Getting the dry dog food off the hall floor where our dog Smokey has pushed it out of his bowl with his nose. (An annoying ritual that happens 2 or 3 times daily). Or unraveling my earrings or necklaces when they are all balled up because I have not put them away neatly.

He also is a great clothes folder. Takes patience.

The other day, I was hurrying to get to the office. Grabbed tuna fish out of the fridge. Looked where we keep our plastic grocery bags to use one. Miraculously, the sack was not stuffed to the brim with bags! Someone... had remembered to take them to be recycled.

Someone who is not always in a hurry.

He was standing there.

"I want you to know that I notice all the things you do around here. All the little things. Thank you for taking those bags to be recycled.
"

He smiled.

I can assure you not all moments in our marriage are this beatific. But I am making a point.

When we are together for a long time, we can take each other for granted. If I do some task well, I usually am the one in the partnership whose primary responsibility it becomes. It just makes sense.

I am probably going to get very tired of doing what I do well.

As my partner is.

So gratitude goes a long way. A very long way.

Taking the time to notice and be kind. When I talk about this with patients, at this point I usually hear,"Do I have to thank him every time he loads the dishwasher? I cook. He's supposed to clean up at least sometimes."

No, of course not. That would be a bit silly.

It's important to notice. To show that you are grateful. That the other person is doing a good job.

I use gratitude exercises to help build a stronger, positive, more hopeful tone in a family. Oprah strongly advocates that people keep a "grateful journal," writing 5 things a day they are grateful for in their own lives. I just expand that idea, asking folks to write down 1 thing each day that they feel grateful for -- that is about their partner. Leave it out where both can read. The whole family can join in!

One guy wrote, "I am grateful that my wife could think of something to write!" He needed a little more help.

Remember, we parents are also modeling healthy behavior for our children. When they hear you being kind to one another, they will mimic you. If they hear you being negative, or just don't hear anything nice, they will mimic that.

George Saunders in his 2013 commencement speech at Syracuse University stated that what he regretted more than anything in his life were "failures of kindness". "There's a confusion in each of us, a sickness really: selfishness". He goes on to advocate for being unselfish. To act when you see others hurting. To be kind.

That's what gratitude is really. Taking the time to notice and be kind. When you see your loved one trying. Succeeding or not. But trying.

I can assure you that when either one of you do not feel appreciated, you are hurting.

A simple "thank you" can work wonders.

This is the first of a series of 3 articles on very simple, practical ways to improve your marriage. You can read more of Dr. Margaret at http://drmargaretrutherford.com!

Earlier on Huff/Post50:

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