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Dr. Terri Orbuch

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Improve Your Marriage With One Little Word

Posted: 11/22/2011 8:43 am

During the holiday season, we often take a moment to give thanks -- for our health and the health of our loved ones, for good friends and family, and for the comforts of home. But when was the last time you said "thanks" to your spouse or partner? How often do you show your partner that you value him or her? When we're busy and stressed out, we often forget to thank the very person we chose to share our life with!

If thanking your spouse is something you only do once a year over a plate of turkey and stuffing, you would do well to change your ways. Why? Because saying and showing gratitude will improve your relationship. Happy and healthy relationships require communication, realistic expectations and trust. Another very important factor in happy relationships is gratitude -- making your spouse feel valued, loved, and supported with simple acts and behaviors.

How important is it to thank your beloved? Consider this: In my long-term study of marriage and divorce, couples who expressed frequent gratitude to each other were the happiest in their marriages by a significant margin. In fact, 61 percent of the happy couples in my study said that their spouses "often" made them feel good about the kind of person they are, compared to only 27 percent of the other couples. For these happy couples, gratitude came in the form of words, gestures, or acts that showed a spouse that he or she was noticed, appreciated, respected, loved or desired.

Here's why gratitude is so important. There are three basic needs all people in relationships have: (1) The need for reassurance or self-worth, (2) the need for intimacy and closeness, and (3) the need for assistance. Learning how to show your partner gratitude will help you fulfill your spouse's first two needs: the need for reassurance and the need for intimacy.

It's easy to say "thanks" and to show that you're thankful by following this simple three-step process.

Step #1: Name what you're thankful for.
Thank-you is maybe the most crucial word you can say to your partner, and the word your partner most wants to hear. But instead of lightly flinging the word around, you can give the sentiment more oomph if you can truly say it like you mean it. To do this, you need to understand why you value and appreciate your partner so much. This holiday season, take a few minutes and write down five things you are most thankful for when it comes to your partner. For example, he lets you vent. She knows just what you love most to eat. He pays the bills without complaining. She makes your parents feel welcome. He makes you laugh. She is an amazing listener. I guarantee doing this little exercise will make you smile to yourself.

Step #2: Now, genuinely thank your partner.
There are countless ways to tell your partner you care about him or her. The most obvious is simply to read your list out loud. You can also "thank" your partner indirectly with a heartfelt compliment: "You're so handsome." "Good morning, gorgeous." "You're the best dad/mom." There is no etiquette or formal rule that verbal gratitude has to be delivered face-to face. You can express this type of gratitude over the phone, in email, or in person. Sometimes a surprise phone call in the middle of the day delivers more bang than a kiss when you get home. Or, mailing a thank-you card to your partner can be a surprisingly simple way to make him or her feel appreciated and noticed.

Step #3: Don't just say thanks; show it.
It's not that hard to show your spouse regularly through small endearments that he or she matters to you, and that you are thankful she or he is in your life. My research shows that men, in particular, are more likely to show than to tell. That is, they gravitate more to actions than to words, and they also respond more to actions than words. Women tend to be more verbal, so if a husband is showing gratitude to his wife, she might not "get it" if he doesn't also say the words "thank-you" or "I appreciate you" or "I'm so grateful." The key to showing gratitude to your partner is to see the world through your spouse's eyes. What does your wife or husband need? Think about your partner's habits or some specific challenges he or she faces. Is your wife always running out of cash? Slip some bills into her purse as a nice surprise. Is she always rushing around? Offer to take the kids to sports practice for a change so she can have some quiet time. Is he stressed out at work? Make his favorite dinner tonight. Does he love to read the newspaper in the morning? Pick it up at the store with his favorite coffee drink tomorrow morning. Kiss and hug your partner. The key here is to make small gestures regularly that show you're paying attention.

The best part of that magic word and concept -- thanks -- is that if you take the time to say it and show it to your partner, you'll receive gratitude in kind.

 

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