Georgia and Gavin were at their wits’ end. After four years of marriage, their day-to-day interactions had gone from joyful and affirming to disappointed and resentful.
Gavin doesn’t love me anymore, Georgia ruminated. He never helps around the house, and I can’t remember the last time he put the kids to bed.
Georgia is so critical, Gavin thought. Nothing I ever do is good enough. She never sees the things I do to take care of her and our family, and she spends way too much money.
One day in couple’s counseling, Georgia and Gavin’s therapist called out their scorekeeping and challenged them to be more grateful. Rather than focus on what the other wasn’t doing that they wished they were, the therapist invited them to consider what their spouse was doing that was positive. By practicing more gratitude in marriage, the therapist promised, Georgia and Gavin could become happy and supportive partners again.
Sound too simple to be true? Not sure how to be more grateful in marriage? In this article, we explore how gratitude strengthens a marriage and five ways of practicing gratitude in marriage so you can better your relationship with your spouse and become more like our Heavenly Parents.
How gratitude transforms your marriage
“Gratitude is a mark of a noble soul and a refined character,” said Joseph B. Wirthlin of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in a devotional address at Brigham Young University (BYU) in 2000. “We like to be around those who are grateful. They tend to brighten all around them. They make others feel better about themselves. They tend to be more humble, more joyful, more likable.”
There’s a reason that giving honest and sincere appreciation is the first principle of Dale Carnegie’s cult classic How to Win Friends and Influence People: We love a grateful heart. But it’s about more than that. It’s about how gratitude can change how we think about others and ourselves and how gratitude transforms your marriage.
Let’s take a quick look at some of the things researchers have proven gratitude for your spouse can do for you and your marriage:
- Experiencing gratitude makes you more likely to act in a way that benefits your spouse rather than yourself by doing things like cooperating or caregiving.
- Lack of appreciation in a relationship, particularly gratitude that feels insincere, correlates to a less happy marriage.
- When you express gratitude for your spouse, you’re more happy, connected, and committed in your marriage.
- Practicing gratitude in marriage authentically and repeatedly can help both your partner and your relationship be happier.
- Gratitude can help couples grow emotionally closer.
- Gratitude encourages you to sustain the quality of the relationship by being positive, open, loving, and fair.
- Appreciation in marriage motivates people to stay committed to their partners.
- Signs of appreciation in a relationship encourage partners to respond to each other’s needs.
- Gratitude can remind couples of the reasons they love each other.
- Gratitude can even save a marriage by mediating some of the negative effects of conflict, avoidance, and selfishness.
The gospel of Jesus Christ as taught by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also testifies of the power of gratitude. According to the Church’s Gospel Topics essay on gratitude, thankfulness breeds happiness and spiritual strength. It also neutralizes negativity, like bitterness, resentment, and mean-spiritedness. With so many benefits, it’s no wonder why we need gratitude in marriage.
How to be more grateful in marriage
Now that we’ve established the importance of gratitude in marriage, let’s talk about what practicing gratitude in marriage looks like. Like the therapist advised Georgia and Gavin, gratitude is about perspective. It’s about seeing and appreciating our partner rather than ignoring and criticizing them.
Not sure where to start? Here’s how to be more grateful in a relationship in five practical ways.
In 2020, the Church published a 12-minute video message from Russell M. Nelson on the healing power of gratitude. He invited listeners “just for the next seven days–to turn social media into your own personal gratitude journal. … At the end of the seven days, see if you feel happier and more at peace.”
While 2020 has ended, we can still accept the prophet’s invitation to record our gratitude. When doing so privately and about our spouse, we may still find the happiness and peace Nelson suggested we’d feel.
Start with a notebook, diary, or app on your phone. Then, start keeping track of things to be thankful for in your marriage. You can update your journal as you go about your day and think of something to jot down. Or you can set aside time each day or a few times per week to update your journal.
It may help you to think of a sentence relating to your spouse or your marriage that you’d like to complete. For example, “I am thankful for my husband because….” Giving yourself a specific prompt can help you focus your thoughts.
When feeling sad, discouraged, or frustrated with your marriage, you may feel unable to come up with many or any things to be grateful for at first. Be patient with yourself. Like anything else, being grateful takes practice.
Writer Robert Louis Stevenson, best known for authoring Treasure Island and Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, said it this way: “The man who forgets to be thankful has fallen asleep in life.” You have to retrain your mind and your heart to “awaken” to and acknowledge the positive.
Some additional prompts that may help you find things to record about your spouse:
- My spouse made a difference when they __________.
- My wife made me feel special when she __________.
- My partner saved me time when they __________.
- My husband always __________ for me or the family.
Have 60 seconds? Then you have enough time to do a gratitude meditation.
A gratitude meditation is the practice of focusing on what you’re thankful for–in this case, your spouse–to train your attention and awareness to the positive aspects of your partnership. By focusing on appreciating your partner for one minute, you can break the cycle of negativity or resentment you may feel towards your spouse. Simply reflecting on gratitude for your spouse for a minute can help you change your perspective, disentangle yourself from negative thoughts, and help you deal with problems in your marriage better.
To make gratitude meditations a regular part of your day, try integrating them into things you already do. You can focus on appreciating your spouse while brushing your teeth, pouring milk into your morning bowl of cereal, or stopped at a red light. Not sure what to think about? Consider the same prompts listed above for the gratitude journal.3. Go for a savoring walk.
Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center encourages people to set aside 20-minutes a week for a savoring walk: a solitary walk during which you try to notice all the positive things you can. Tapping into the five senses of sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste, you can find things to appreciate about your surroundings.
“For example, you could focus on the breathtaking height of a tree you never really noticed before, the intricate architecture of a building on your block, the dance of sunshine off a window or puddle, the smell of grass or flowers, or the way other people look out for each other as they navigate crowded streets,” the online guide says.
While savoring walks don’t directly involve your spouse, they can still help you be more grateful in your marriage. By training yourself to acknowledge and value your environment, you strengthen your gratitude muscles. You’ll be more capable of recognizing the good in your relationship, and you’ll be more prepared to say thanks for that good in your marriage.4. Write affirmations.
Affirmations are positive statements that, when repeated regularly aloud or internally, can challenge and overcome negative thoughts. If you’re struggling to respect and value your spouse, writing and reciting some affirmations that focus on how you’d like to perceive your spouse might help.
Some examples of affirmations about your spouse include:
- I am thankful for my spouse for all they do in our marriage.
- I love my partner unconditionally.
- I appreciate and respect my spouse’s differences.
- My spouse and I strengthen and uplift each other.
- I am grateful that we love each other.
By honing in on the partnership you want to have, you’ll increase the likelihood of achieving your goals and practice gratitude in marriage along the way.
Anyone who knows me personally knows I’m a big, BIG fan of thank you notes. I write thank you notes when I receive gifts. I write thank you notes when neighbors let me borrow that one missing ingredient I need to make a Sunday meal or treat. I even write thank you notes when people give me used clothes or toys they were planning on donating or throwing away. To paraphrase Alma, I don’t boast of my own goodness, but the goodness of **thank you notes**!
Take it from Amit Kumar, an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Texas at Austin’s McCombs School of Business. She co-authored a study on expressing gratitude in 2018 that Time Magazine featured in an article.
“Saying thanks can improve somebody’s own happiness, and it can improve the well-being of another person as well — even more than we anticipate, in fact,” Kumar said. “If both parties are benefitting from this, I think that’s the type of action we should be pursuing more often in our everyday lives.”
Thank you notes don’t have to be long or complicated. The study found that sincere and warm gratitude letters make the receivers feel surprised, special, and valued. You as the writer also benefit from feeling good and getting better at being grateful.
So the next time you notice something you appreciate about your spouse–perhaps while writing in your gratitude journal or while doing a gratitude meditation–consider writing it down and giving it to them. Letting them know with a note may feel more intentional than saying it to their face or via text. It also gives your spouse something to keep and review if they’re sentimental.
Thank you notes can be particularly powerful if your spouse’s love language is words of affirmation. For such partners in particular, regularly communicating how much you love your spouse and why will help them to feel validated and secure in your marriage.
How will you prioritize gratitude in your marriage?
Alma 34:38 reads: “Live in thanksgiving daily, for the many mercies and blessings which he doth bestow upon you.”
Being grateful daily may feel like a tall order, but as you purposely make time for gratitude in your marriage, being thankful will become a habit rather than a chore. And as you’re able to see your marriage through more grateful eyes, you’ll be less likely to participate in activities that hurt your marriage–like keeping score–and more likely to do things that nourish and strengthen your marriage.
Want a reminder to be grateful to hang in your home? Check out Brittany Soucy’s abstract painting “Meditations on Gratitude.”