Within just a few months of my wedding, I found myself taking my husband for granted. Like many happily married newlyweds, we had settled into a routine. It wasn’t necessarily a bad routine—in fact, our relationship was happily sailing along. But as I took a moment to reflect, I realized that I was so comfortable in our life that I was inadvertently neglecting to properly appreciate my husband.
From where I was standing I could see I had gotten the deal of a lifetime: a man who worked hard to love me every day, who patiently listened to my random ideas late at night, who always showed incredible care for my family, and who even made breakfast every morning! But I wasn’t doing my job to make that expressly known to him.
I'm certainly not the first to do so (nor, I expect, will I be the last). Marriage counselor and Verily contributor Peter McFadden also discovered that he was taking his spouse for granted, stating, “As each month of marriage passed, the slow decline in our relationship continued.”
In fact, McFadden explains that, according to Bill Doherty, professor of marriage and family therapy at the University of Minnesota, “the natural trend of marriage is for romance, affection, appreciation, and communication to decline over time, not because couples start to dislike each other but because they become too comfortable together.”
No matter how in love we are or how happy we are, we can always do more to love and cherish and show our gratitude to the people we care most about. A University of Georgia research study even indicates that “spousal expression of gratitude” is a significant predictor of marital quality. So whether you’re like me and need to improve your game, or you’re looking to avoid my mishaps, here are five easy ways to recognize and appreciate your partner.
01. Thank them for “the usual.”
My husband works hard to make things easier for me. He’ll balance our budget spreadsheet and researches insurance details without expecting anything in return. While what he does may be seemingly unromantic grunt work, his efforts are worthy of my appreciation, and I should share those feelings of gratitude with him.
As Dale Carnegie writes in How to Win Friends and Influence People, be “hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise.” Oh, and don’t forget to be specific when you thank him. Saying precisely what we’re grateful for gives depth and validity to our statements.
When I practice this type of mindfulness, it becomes clear how many things I forget to say “thank you” for. There’s so much I don’t acknowledge or notice. As Benjamin Caldwell, Psy.D., licensed marriage and family therapist, states, “Even small expressions of gratitude can make a significant difference.”
02. Add an element of surprise.
When my days are jam-packed, sometimes relaxing is all I think about when it comes to time with my partner. But I have found that with a little energy and forethought, I could do something unexpected to let my husband know he is appreciated.
As Erin Leyba, LCSW, Ph.D., advises, “One way to make kindness ‘come alive’ in your relationship is by surprising your partner for ‘no reason at all.’ Surprises add spark to your relationship and communicate how much you care.”
Sending a small gift to work or secretly inviting friends to play cards on Friday night are easy ways I surprised and brightened my husband’s day. If your partner doesn’t enjoy surprises that involve others, there are alternatives. Writing a thoughtful card or bringing home their favorite dessert will be welcomed signs of appreciation.
03. Go on an adventure.
Weeks go by where I tread the same tracks—in the apartment, at work, the gym, and nearby streets. It's easy to fall into a habit, forgetting to do something different and fun.
When we step away from distractions and do something new, the fresh scenery provides a chance to refocus on our partner in a new light. Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D., professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, shares that adventure promotes “the 'crescive bond' (in sociological parlance, a “shared experience”) by fostering growing and enduring connections.” She says that shared memories and “time spent together isolated from ordinary everyday activities help to promote these positive ties.”
The adventure doesn’t have to be big. It can be as simple as taking a bike ride or having a picnic in the park. One afternoon my husband and switched things up by tossing a frisbee outside. We came away feeling more appreciated by each other, and we had a lot of fun, too.
04. Ask a thoughtful question.
Day-to-day happenings and the upcoming agenda are often the topics of conversation in our marriage. We recite what happened at work or drift off thinking about the weekend’s social calendar. Throughout a whole evening, I might not stop to fully listen and engage in dialogue that’s important.
Asking thoughtful questions, however, is a way to show appreciation for your man. For example, instead of asking my husband the usual, “How was your day?” I tried asking him something more specific, like, “What do you love about teaching?”
Certified Gottman therapist and Verily contributor Zach Brittle says that engaging in thoughtful dialogue helps us turn towards our partners and demonstrate that we value them and what’s important to them. “Turning towards starts with paying attention,” he says. In fact, couples who turned towards one another stayed married 86 percent of the time, while couples who divorced only turned towards each other 33 percent of the time.
05. Get off your butt.
I didn’t even know I was getting cozy—perhaps too cozy—in my relationship. My husband was happily making dinners, and I was happily eating them. I’d be content with a bowl of yogurt and granola for dinner, but my husband wants a warm meal, and I don’t blame him. So after he kindly brought it to my attention, I got off my butt and cooked a meal.
By performing a thoughtful task, you’re conveying that you appreciate them and are happy to help them with both the unexpected and unexciting. Robert L. Funaro, Ed.D, LLP, supervised LL psychologist and marriage counselor states, “A spontaneous and simple act of service (doing the laundry, cleaning the bathroom, grooming the lawn, vacuuming, etc.) shows and expresses one's value and belief in working together to create a partnership team. These acts elicit a simple, direct, and unconditional statement of affirmation as well as a true and endearing feeling of appreciation.”
Rather than slip into a static routine, we can choose mindfulness in our relationships. Whether we’re married, dating, or engaged, we can practice intentional loving. After all, we want our partners to know how downright brilliant and special they are.
Photo Credit: Julie Cate Photography