Our new series is entitled 9 Habits for Healthy and Happy Marriages.
What sets a healthy, thriving marriage apart from one that drifts into difficulty? Intentionality. Happy marriages don’t just happen because of chemistry. They happen because of habits that keep a couple connecting through all the ups and downs of married life.
These habits or practices involve the continual investment of time, interest, and energy. They provide the glue of the marriage. When challenges hit, these habits create the resilience that enables the marital friendship to remain intact. Over the next nine weeks I’ll be sharing practices that will ignite your marriage and keep it burning.
Here’s habit number one: Express appreciation!
This habit is about verbally telling your mate what you appreciate about them. You might think this is a no-brainer. Sure, we all like to hear we are appreciated. It tells us we have value and our contribution has been noticed. But why is it so hard to tell our mate we appreciate them on any regular basis?
There are several reasons. First, we get lazy. We begin to take our mate for granted. We overlook their efforts and assume they don’t need any thanks. Second, we get stingy. We expect our mate shouldn’t need our gratitude for holding up their end of responsibilities in the marriage. After all, they signed up for this and pitching in just comes with the territory. Thirdly, we may be overly focused on what they’re not doing and miss what they’re doing to help. We feel justified in our disappointment and negativity and want them to notice what is lacking. Finally, if we did not receive verbal appreciation in our childhood we may find it awkward to be generous with it as an adult.
Learning to be appreciative, however, can pay huge dividends in a marriage. A simple word of thanks can go a long way toward reducing stress and helping our mate calm internally. Jason remembers Jennifer asked him to grab some tortillas on his way home from work. Jennifer greets him and says, “Thank you! I know you had a full day and I really appreciate you picking these up!” Jason’s rough day at work just got a bit lighter.
Katie gets home before Tim. She pulls in the trash cans which is usually Tim’s “job.” Tim notices on his way in and says, “Hey, thanks for pulling in the cans.” Glad he noticed the effort, Katie feels more warmly toward Tim.
The Bible encourages us to “…give thanks in all circumstances” (I Thessalonians 5:18). That suggests we train our minds to look for what is good, not dwell on what is not to our liking. Regular expressions of gratefulness for your partner’s efforts or character will sustain a sense of connection, even when you and your mate are apart.
So, here’s a few things you can do to get in the habit of thanking your mate:
- Express appreciation for something at least once each day. A simple “Thanks, honey” or “I appreciate you” in a note, phone call, or face-to-face creates an atmosphere of good feeling that can infuse all other interactions.
- Once a week, tell your spouse one thing about who they are that you are grateful for. Maybe it’s the way they are with the kids, or how they contribute to your home life, or some aspect of their personality.
Appreciation is like putting oil in your car. It lubricates the engine and keeps it running longer.
One additional benefit of gratefulness: it releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter in the brain that triggers feelings of pleasure or reward. Dopamine urges us to repeat the behavior to enjoy additional pleasure. Gratefulness produces more gratefulness—a great ongoing recipe for marital happiness!
For more on gratefulness in marriage check out a previous blog post on “Cultivating Gratefulness.”