It had been a long day. I had dropped off our kindergartener at school, rushed downtown for a court hearing, sailed back to my law office for a conference call, and put the finishing touches on material for the writing course I teach as an adjunct professor. I made it home in time for dinner and helped with homework afterward (which meant asking Google how to divide fractions, because who remembers those things?).
My husband and I worked side-by-side to get the essential household and parenting tasks done. He (a former chef) cooked dinner; I (who can barely manage toast) cleaned up; and we divided and conquered bath time and bedtime, finally getting our three kids to sleep with books and prayers and only a little bit of bribery.
I was finishing the last of the dishes, feeling fatigued and thinking about the work still to be done, when my husband smiled and said, “You’re awesome. You work so hard, and you’re such a great mom.”
With those words, my exhaustion lessened, and my heart lifted.
I knew his words were heartfelt, and they made the day seem just a little bit easier. Those words made me feel valued. Although no marriage is perfect, I believe these regular expressions of appreciation—exchanged regularly between us—are the glue that holds us together.
This is not just my experience—it’s backed by science. In the field of positive psychology, researchers have time and again determined that gratitude makes you happy. In fact, researchers at the University of California-Berkeley have concluded that expressing gratitude is vital to maintaining romantic relationships. The UC Berkeley researchers note that feeling appreciated by your partner promotes your own appreciate feelings toward your partner—meaning that appreciation begets appreciation, which helps us to maintain happy relationships.
For my husband and me, these expressions come easily. But even for couples who aren’t naturally vocal about their appreciation—or those for whom appreciation is buried under the minutiae of daily life—an intentional practice of outward appreciation can become a habit that will strengthen your marriage.
Here are some tips to build a grateful marriage:
1. Give thanks silently first.
First, notice your spouse. Acknowledge to yourself the little things he does that make your life easier or that make you smile; notice how hard he is working on the backyard landscaping or that new project at work. Think about your spouse’s character and what makes him a good person. Our brains are wired to have a negativity bias, meaning we are more likely to notice the bad qualities in others. When we intentionally focus on the positive intentions and abilities of others, we are more likely to see the good in them.
2. Give thanks to your spouse.
When you notice the good stuff, vocalize it. Tell your spouse that you appreciate it when she makes dinner, or that you think he’s a really great dad. It doesn’t have to be a big production, but it must be sincere. Giving thanks also affirms your spouse’s best qualities; when you receive praise for something, you tend to continue that behavior.
3. Give thanks in front of your children.
When you express gratitude to your spouse, it helps strengthen your marriage. When you express gratitude for your spouse in front of your children, it strengthens the whole family unit. Children feel safe and secure in a family where they know that their parents respect one another, and expressions of gratitude set a good example of how to treat others. (My husband frequently tells our kids that they have a great mom, and I frequently tell the kids that they have a great dad. We are pretty sure we are right about this, and our kids follow our lead.) Conversely, disparaging remarks between parents—even if couched as jokes—can lead to insecurity, and it provides a poor example of the standard your children should expect in their own marriages someday.
4. Speak well of your spouse to others.
Early in our marriage, my husband came home from a guys’ night out and told me that he had spent the whole night talking to the guys about how great I am. That little bit of affirmation—the thought that my husband spoke highly of me to his friends—made me feel more loved and valued that almost anything else. Speaking well of your spouse to others (when your spouse is there, and when he is not) ensures that you remain focused on the positive, helps your spouse to feel valued, and strengthens your bond in the long run.
Giving thanks is an easy and rewarding habit to cultivate—and it can bring a happier, more stable marriage and family.
You may also like: