April is Dedicated to Relationships: Gratitude

Gratitude is often cited as one of the keys to happiness. In the last decade, researchers have been studying the psychological and health benefits of practicing gratitude. If you're the research-reading type, you can read a summary of 26 studies on gratitude here.  The basic claim is that practicing gratitude increases feelings of satisfaction and happiness. From a positive psychology standpoint, it makes sense that the more we focus on the good, the better we feel.

This logic follows into our romantic relationships. If we make a point to practice gratitude for our partner and our relationship, we will increase the positive feelings we have about our relationship. When we experience conflict in our relationship, we often shift our focus toward what we want to change. This is a natural and important shift; recognizing what we want to change motivates us toward growth. However, we sometimes forget that we can both change the things we want to change, and simultaneously appreciate aspects of our partner and relationship that we hold dear. 

It is especially important during times of stress to intentionally focus on what we appreciate about our partner and our relationship. If we can locate our ability to feel gratitude, we will be better able to protect ourselves and our relationship from one of the biggest threats to growth: hopelessness. One of the best pieces of advice I received in graduate school regarding couples came from a seasoned marriage and family therapist. He shared that in his work with couples, he found one thing to be true amongst all the couples he worked with. He found that what couples are most looking for when they come to therapy is hope. Cultivating gratitude inspires hope. You don't need a relationship therapist to give you that hope, you can create it yourself. 

One way to cultivate gratitude for your partner and relationship is by keeping a gratitude journal. Choose a journal that fits for you, whether it's plain, pretty, or you embellish it yourself. Commit to writing one thing about your partner that you are grateful for every day. It doesn't need to be a big thing that you're grateful for, in fact, finding gratitude for the little things might be more useful in rekindling fondness and admiration for your partner. If you find yourself stuck, you might want to use some journal prompts. The Gottman Institute has a Fondness and Admiration workbook which is a more structured type of exercise that many people I've worked with have found useful. You can purchase it here, or, if you're seeing a relationship therapist, they might have it on hand.

A gratitude journal is an exercise that can strengthen your relationship. When you are truly feeling grateful, share that with your partner. Everyone needs to feel appreciated. Feeling appreciated often leads to experiencing more gratitude. Now you've created a vicious cycle of positive feelings towards one another, and a basic foundation for hope in your relationship. 

-Kori Hennessy, MA, LAMFT