Being the best partner — 15 May 2011
Gratitude and your relationship

Gratitude is a profound feeling and a rarely advocated virtue that can turn the tide of a stale or less than harmonious relationship. This rarely utilized emotion can be easily practiced with little effort and great rewards.

Children naturally feel grateful for the care and benefits that their parents bestow upon them. Adolescents, may not admit it, but often feel blessed by their peer connections. It is actually adults who recoil from expressing gratitude because they may not like to feel indebted to another. It is as though being grateful diminishes their autonomy, self- sufficiency and independence and relegates them to an inferior position in regard to others.

Parents teach their children to be polite and express their thanks as a matter of good manners – not as a desirable trait and a human value. Robert Emmons, in “The Psychology of Gratitude,” points out that gratitude can be cultivated and is a benefit to one’s nature. “Indeed, a single feeling of gratitude – for example, to one’s parents, to an influential teacher or guru, or to someone who has seriously changed or even saved one’s life¬ – may come to define a good deal of one’s character and one’s sense of one’s own life.”

The pioneering psychoanalyst, theorist and author Erik Erikson suggested that as one matures, gratitude for one’s life is a gift central to the stage of wisdom in advanced years.

In relationships, being valued by the partner is a pivotal emotion that helps determine whether or not people are happy in their love connection. To feel treasured one needs to know that he/she is pleasing to the partner. Gratitude for a partner’s conduct and essence helps secure the mate’s self-esteem, sense of belonging and safety within the union.

Words of gratitude go beyond social politeness. Thanking your spouse for actions that are pleasing to you is refined and appropriate. Yet, gratitude extends the thanks by citing the meaning of these actions to you. When you state how this conduct positively impacts you – your partner feels satisfaction at pleasing you and enriching your life.

For example, “Thank you for helping me with the dishes,” is polite and proper. Adding, “When you do this I feel supported and appreciate having a life partner,” records your gratitude and the benefits of your teamwork. Your mate is likely to value you and himself at once.

Feeling gratitude humbles us. It highlights our human inter-dependence – not our indebtedness to each other. It helps us feel happier and privileged. The essence of couple happiness is created through mutual positive regard, love, appreciation and making a difference in each other’s lives. Affirming it beyond politeness brings you closer to a blissful relationship.

• Understand that being polite is a social expectation, being grateful is an intimate exchange.
• Add an explanation when thanking your partner. Expound upon how it enriches you to be treated this way.
• Practice gratitude. It improves your character and deepens your relationship’s intimacy.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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