Cultivating Gratefulness

When is the last time you intentionally focused on being thankful for your spouse? If you’re like me, you spend more time stewing over the things that annoy you than the things that stir appreciation. Why are we so prone to focus on the negative and ignore the positive?

Sometimes the stresses of life get in our way. We get going so fast that there is no margin to step back and smell the flowers and kindle a sense of gratefulness. We get hung up in the dutiful side of life and forget the importance of being thankful.

At other times we just get into a negative cycle where we have difficulty seeing anything positive about our mate. Marital researcher, John Gottman, coined this ‘negative sentiment override.’ It’s when we have such a negative spin on our mate that everything they do, even those things that are neutral and positive, are seen in a negative light. When we’re in negative sentiment override, we tend to overlook or discount the positive gestures and intentions of our mate. At these times we get stuck in what is known as confirmation bias—the tendency to look for evidence to prove what we already believe to be true. If we think our mate has negative motives or is behaving badly, we scan for evidence to support our view and exclude evidence that might challenge our vantage point.

Our minds are a powerful thing. We can get trapped in rehearsing old wounds, ruminating over past arguments and over-focusing on our mates flaws. Catching ourselves and turning our minds toward gratefulness is sometimes like turning the direction of a cruise ship. Not easy—but also not impossible.

A recent survey of 468 married individuals at the University of Georgia found that spousal expression of gratitude was the most consistent significant predictor of marital quality.

Gratitude was measured in terms of the degree to which individuals felt appreciated by their spouse, valued by their spouse and acknowledged when they did something nice for their spouse.

So what if you started today to turn that ship around? Here are a few tips for doing just that:

  1. Sit down and make a list of the things you are most grateful for as you think about your spouse. Think back on why you married them, how life with them has helped you grow as a person, and any other positive qualities or memories you have.
  2. To overcome any negative sentiment override you may be experiencing, start looking for evidence that disputes your viewpoint. Train your eyes to look for evidence of your mates’ positive intentions and efforts.
  3. Every day, express appreciation to your spouse. Appreciation can include something they have either recently said or done, who they are as a human being, or any way they have contributed to your family.
  4. Make a point of acknowledging any act of kindness or provision. My husband routinely puts new toilet paper in the holder when needed. Small but noticeable.

After two weeks of practicing these suggestions, notice how you are feeling about your mate and notice what happens to the quality of your relationship. Then, reply to this blog and let us know how it’s going!

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