Tools for Couples Happiness — 29 October 2003
Make your thanksgiving a daily habit

Thanksgiving is a holiday of family, feast and joy. It is a time to
pause and appreciate our blessings, as the pioneers did in 1661
celebrating their first harvest after a harsh winter.

In many homes words of gratitude for our food and fortunate lives
accompany the traditional meal. We share with those who are in need and
feel blessed. Part of the happiness this holiday engenders stems from
the feeling of gratitude. When we are thankful, we feel joy.

In daily life, Americans are quick to close most interactions with a
thank you”. It would be expected that we would be equally vocal about
our true appreciation at home. That is not so. For whatever reason, our
private lives are less expressive of gratitude than our public life.

In relationships, when you regularly thank your partner for his or her
contributions to your lives, both of you are enriched. The person who is
doing the thanking appreciates being supported, the partner feels valued.

These small acknowledgements of the benefits of ordinary tasks cement
the partnership. They highlight the contributions of both of you. It is
important to affirm your mate’s actions, even if they are part of his or
her negotiated role. “Thank you for driving the kids to school, or
cleaning, cooking, managing the finances, making the bed, calling the
service person, or bringing home your paycheck.” Though all these tasks
are routinely done, the gratitude for doing them lightens the burden. “I
guess what I do does matter and is appreciated- it makes it easier to
keep doing it more willingly”.

Behavior that is rewarded tends to be repeated. Behavior that is ignored
tends to be extinguished. Even if we do not stop doing the necessary
tasks, our attitude toward accomplishing them may get soured when our
efforts are not acknowledged.

In my psychology practice one of the most common complaints I hear is:
“He (or she) does not appreciate what I do, how hard I work and what it
takes to do all that I do”. A few words of thanks, easily remedy the
sense of being misunderstood and unappreciated.

Some people feel that frequent thanks for ordinary duties trivialize the
significance of appreciation for greater efforts. Or, they say that it
feels silly to be so effusive about the necessary evils of managing
life. Others, feel that frequent “thank you’s labels the contributor a
stranger and relegates her to a non-family member.

I beg to differ with those objections. I think that giving thanks are
not just about being polite, it is a most basic form of affirming
others. It is also the small building blocks of your castle. Hearing
those small expressions of gratitude helps us feel recognized and valued
and motivates us to validate our mates as well.

Giving thanks is easy, kind and essential for the ongoing sense of
connection between partners. The opposite of gratitude is entitlement
the attitude of deserving to be helped and cared for. Entitlement
damages intimacy. It leaves the active partner feeling unappreciated and
ignored. It may indicate an inequality within the relationship, whereby
the entitled person feels that he or she deserves to be catered to
without reciprocity. This creates a barrier to their intimacy.

Being gracious and grateful requires very little energy and reaps great
rewards. If you are not already doing it, begin to often voice your
gratitude to your partner. You will find that good will within your
relationship will increase and intimacy will intensify.

Kindness begets kindness; appreciation begets appreciation and so on.
When one partner chooses to model gratitude, it is likely
to be quickly reciprocated. In atmosphere of appreciation, children
thrive as well.

So please say “thank you” as often as you can. These two words are worth
a fortune in relationships.

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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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