Since “‘Tis the season” for gratitude, it seems rather appropriate that we talk about the role of thanksgiving in relationships.
When working with couples, one of the first things I ask them to do is to write down at least one thing about their partner that they appreciate. They do this every day for one week, and then report back into me. I ask them to share what they wrote with their partner and me during session. It is an incredibly powerful exercise.
When we are stressed out, we tend to focus on the negative: what is wrong, what should have been done, where are the disappointments in our lives. Know any one who feels stressed out lately?
When we feel down about our own lives, and ourselves we tend to lash out at those around us. Know anyone whose “voices” inside their heads tend to beat themselves up rather that encourage them?
And when we are upset with someone (for whatever reason), our brain looks for even more evidence as to why we should be upset with that person. This causes us to focus more on the negative.
Why gratitude works:
Going back to the gratitude exercise I ask couples to complete, let’s look at why it is such a transformational exercise.
The writer: For the person documenting what their partner did that they appreciate, there is a mental shift. Having perfected the art of identifying what their partner has done that does not please them, now they are focusing on the opposite: what is it that my partner is doing that IS pleasing me? Even just asking that question will cause a cognitive shift because your brain is now scanning what you see to find the good. And, low and behold, there actually IS a lot of great stuff your partner is doing. This allows you to feel more grateful and greater happiness.
The partner: Positive reinforcement is a much more powerful than punishment on future behavior. Think about it: is someone else appreciating what you did right or complaining about what you do wrong going to affect you more? Research shows time and time again it is the rewarding behavior that is more motivating.
So, getting to hear what your partner appreciates in you increases your desire to do it again. It also helps you feel good (appreciated and happier), which increases the likelihood that your interactions with your partner will be better.
Don’t wait until you need my couch to try this exercise. Start a gratitude journal for your partner today. And if you do, you and your mate will be even happier!
Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo is the author of a fantastic book: A Happy You: Your Ultimate Prescription for Happiness
Find her on Twitter @DrELombardo
twoday magazine wants to know: Will you try this gratitude exercise with your partner? Facebook us the results!