"Why Can’ t You Just Say, Thanks?"
If this sounds familiar it is because most of us have said it or heard it.
- Most people want to feel appreciated, particularly by the person closest to them but too often the expression of gratitude gets lost in the fabric of couple’s lives.
- Recent research in the field of positive psychology informs us that feeling gratitude, the awareness and appreciation of what is valuable and meaningful to oneself, has many benefits including positive mood, enhanced physical health and optimistic outlook. Actually expressing gratitude has proven to have even greater benefits in terms of personal happiness and relationship enhancement.
- Then… Why is it difficult to express gratitude to a partner?
- People are complicated. Add in couple dynamics, prior history, unconscious factors, cultural context and you multiply those complications.
- Most partners don’t consider how often they thank their partner or if not-why not?
- Few are aware of the proven benefits of expressing gratitude on their personal feelings, their view of the partner, the patterns and value of the relationship
- Consider Recognizing Your Resistance and Understanding the Possible Benefits of "Just Saying Thanks."
Adaptation and Invisibility
Sometimes the best and worst of partners is the fact that they work so seamlessly, the efforts of each to benefit the other are almost invisible. They go unnoticed and unrecognized.
Given our human tendency for adaptation and expectation, it is not surprising that we often take each other for granted. How often do we miss thanking our partner for what he/she has done and instead complain about the undone chore, forgotten item or recipe blunder?
Gratitude shakes up this adaptation. The plan to make note of a partner’s efforts and occasionally thank him/her even for the“ small stuff” makes both partners more visible to each other. Such appreciation was found to be one of the most important factors contributing to a satisfying marriage according to long-term married (25-40 years) couples.
Fear of Dependency
Basic to a strong and loving relationship is the balance of the partners’ independence and mutual dependence. The very essence of gratitude implies a recognition of benefiting from someone else. When that someone else is a stranger, a golf buddy or an acquaintance, the stakes are not high and a “thank you” is easy.
The expression of gratitude to a partner, however, is for some an admission of need that leaves them feeling vulnerable or “one down.” Whether conscious or not, they avoid saying thank you to avoid acknowledging their dependence on their partner.
A memorable example of this is depicted in the ending scene of the movie “My Cousin Vinny” when Mona Lisa Vito confronts Vinny Gambino for his inability to thank her. He responds by insisting that he wanted to win his first case without any help from anybody. Her classic answer is a re-definition of fear of dependency.
"You know this could be a sign of things to come. You win all your cases but with someone else’s help…and then afterwards you have to go up to somebody and you have to say, thank you……Oh my God, what a ****ing nightmare!"
Fear of Disqualifying Negative Feelings
Sometimes people avoid thanking their partner because they fear that the positive expression of appreciation will disqualify the anger, disappointment or upset they feel. They worry that their partner will assume everything is ok and nothing will ever change.
Research findings suggest just the opposite. An important and perhaps unexpected finding of expressing gratitude to your partner is that it enhances your view of that person and the desirability of the relationship in a way that actually increases your comfort in “voicing concerns."
This in turn adds to other relationship maintenance behaviors. When the voicing of concerns provides information about your needs, it improves a partner’s caring and appropriate response. This adds to the feeling of trust and appreciation on both sides.
If you have just been thanked for once again making all the social plans, it is easier to hear your partner’s request that you plan for Saturday nights instead Friday’s because he/she can’t manage the time or fatigue.
The Guilt Factor
Some partners avoid thanking their partners not because they don’t realize what their partners do- but because they realize how much more their partners do than they do!
This avoidance of guilt by avoiding a thank you has a negative impact on both partners. It erodes the very dynamic that gratitude builds in relationships – Communal Strength, the degree of felt responsibility for a partner’s needs.
Research finds that the expression of gratitude by partners, more so than relationship satisfaction, relationship length or social desirability, predicts the feeling of Communal Strength in a relationship.
What is so important for partners to know is that just thinking appreciative thoughts does not have the impact on a relationship’s communal strength that expressing appreciation has.
With a positive spin, it’s worth considering that when it comes to thanking your partner – If you feel something, say something!
Originally published on PsychCentral.