For many married couples, it’s not long after their wedding day that spouses begin to be annoyed by each other. Attributes they didn’t notice before become irritants that seem impossible to ignore. An irritated spouse can easily become critical of their partner and make other negative comments. Some spouses manage to just put up with the irritation, letting it quietly eat away at their marital satisfaction. Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley’s greater Good Science Center have discovered that gratitude may be a powerful solution to these irritants. Even if practiced by only by one partner, gratitude can help your marriage thrive, leading to greater happiness and satisfaction for both spouses.
When Your Spouse Isn’t Your Soulmate
Most couples enter marriage with an unrealistic view of what marriage will be like. Our hope is that we will find our soulmate, our other half, the man or woman of our dreams. That hope is so strong that by the time our wedding day arrived most of us convinced ourselves that he or she was “the one we’ve always dreamed of.” The reality is that we usually choose someone who doesn’t fit that mold–we only convinced ourselves that they did.
When reality hits, and we begin to notice the person we married isn’t who we dreamed they would be, doubts creep in. Our doubts magnify the flaws, making room for disappointment, disillusion, and dissatisfaction.
Married couples who overcome the grief that comes when they discover they didn’t marry the prince of princess of their fantasies do so by adopting a different way of looking at their spouse. Rather than trying to transform their spouse into someone they are not, and never will be, they choose to value their spouse for who they are.
Dr. Aimee Gordon and her colleagues at University of California, Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center discovered that many couples have achieved more satisfying marriages through the power of gratitude, when following four sequential steps. Here’s how it works:
1) Appreciate Your Spouse
For gratitude to take root and flourish in a marriage, someone first needs to take the initiative. All it takes is one spouse choosing to be appreciative of the other.
If you’ve fallen into the trap of focusing on your spouse’s flaws, start adjusting your focus to appreciate your spouse for who they are, and their positive attributes. As you notice a positive attribute or action. tell them how you feel. Be sincere, and use phrases like, “I like the way you…,” “Thank you so much for…,” “I really appreciated it when you…”
2) Invest in the Relationship
A spouse who feels appreciative of their partner naturally becomes more committed to that partner. Your commitment may have waned when you realized your spouse wasn’t Mr. or Mrs. Right. As you begin to value your partner for their real qualities, you’ll renew your efforts to do things for their benefit. Spouses tend to do be more thoughtful and responsive to their partner’s needs, and more caring attentive listeners on days that they feel grateful for them. Each action you take for the benefit of your spouse is an investment in your marriage’s future.
3) Make Sure Your Spouse Feels Appreciated
In a survey of over 21,000 married couples conducted by Prepare/Enrich, 83 percent of couples surveyed said their partner was too negative or critical. Negative and critical comments flow easily when spouses are annoyed or feel unappreciated. Criticism can easily lead to contempt. Contempt can easily destroy a marriage. The more you express your feelings of appreciation for your spouse, the magic of gratitude will cause negativity and criticism to vanish, and your spouse will feel more valued.
4) Make Sure You Feel Appreciated
If you happen to be in a relationship caught in a cycle of physical or emotional abuse, seek professional help to break that cycle. Gratitude alone isn’t enough to break that cycle. But for marriages caught in the normal flow that often leads to marital dissatisfaction, gratitude can revive the smoldering embers of romance.
As your spouse benefits from your gratitude and investment in the relationship by feeling valued, you’ll begin to reap dividends from that investment. Your spouse will feel greater appreciation for you, and will invest more in the relationship. You’ll feel more valued in return.
A version of this post also appeared on LifeZette.com.