5 Ways to Make this Valentine’s Special

Start with these ideas and take it from there!

Valentine’s Day is special. It’s a day of love – a day to shower our significant other with flowers, gifts, and romance. The expectations can be overwhelming. But the day doesn’t have to be. 

It’s a day for the two of you, so make it memorable in your own way. It may mean a night out on the town or an intimate night in.

Focusing on what makes your spouse feel loved is what makes it memorable.

Here are 5 ways to make this Valentine’s special:

1. Tell your spouse 10 ways they’re a great partner.

It’s easy to take for granted all the ways your spouse is remarkable. Life’s busy, and we forget to express our gratitude to each other. Take this Valentine’s to tell them just how great they are, but it doesn’t have to be confined to a card. Get creative in the delivery. Here are a few ideas for how to express your feelings.

  • Leave Post-it notes around the house. Hide them in places like their underwear drawer, work bag, or shoes. After the first few notes, it gets exciting to figure out where the rest are.
  • Give them a note a day for 10 days. If they take their lunch to work, that’s a great place to hide them. Or on the bathroom mirror if you wake up before they do.
  • Employ the kids as messengers. Let them get creative.

2. Ditch the fancy dinner for a food tour.

Mix it up for dinner this year. Instead of making a reservation for dinner, select a part of town with several restaurants and make it a food tour. Have appetizers and drinks at one location, pick a different spot for the main course, then head for dessert and coffee. If the restaurants are close together, you can go for a nice walk as well.

This creates the perfect opportunity to explore what each of you likes. You can alternate picking locations. As you transition from one location to another, talk about what you like about that particular place or food. Smells and tastes have the power to transport us to a time and place in our past. Explore those sensations together.

3. Take a scenic drive.

Make a playlist and hit the road. There’s nothing more I love than driving through the countryside and talking. One rule, though: Ditch the phones! (Okay, let me specify. You may need GPS or music but no social media, texting, or phone calls.)Take in all the scenery and have some deep conversations. My wife and I have the deepest conversations when we’re out driving.

4. Tour your local area.

Have you explored all of your city? Are there places you want to visit but never have? Think of this as a scavenger hunt without the clues. Choose a couple of sites each, then surprise each other with the locations. 

Here’s a couple of ideas to make this special:

  • Choose places significant to your relationship, like your first date, where you met, or your first kiss. You can revisit those memories and talk about how you’ve grown.
  • Choose an area you’ve never visited, but you’d like to. Go for a walk and discover the food, stores, and parks in the area. Talk about what you find. You may just find your new favorite place!

5. Make intimacy a priority.

Before you think, “Of course, he said make sex a priority,” read that again. The Oxford dictionary defines intimacy as “the inmost thoughts or feelings; proceeding from, concerning, or affecting one’s inmost self: closely personal.” 

Intimacy comes in different forms, too. Yes, there’s sexual intimacy, but that’s only one form. There’s also emotional, intellectual, physical, experiential, and spiritual intimacy.

We all need intimacy. And your needs may be different from your spouse’s. That’s okay! Part of marriage is learning about and discovering each other. So make it a priority to get more intimate with your spouse. [Boost your intimacy with this Heart to Heart text series!]

Make this Valentine’s even more special by committing to celebrate your love throughout the year. Be intentional about studying your spouse and growing closer together every day.

Other blogs:

What is “Romance” in Marriage? – First Things First

Why Date Night Matters – First Things First

3 Ways Good Communication Can Enhance Sex In Marriage

DIY Date Night | Appreciation Station – First Things First

What To Do When Your Spouse Has Changed

Working toward growth and connection (when possible) can do wonders for your relationship.

Navigating changes in your spouse can be difficult and serious. How serious?

If changes in your spouse cause you emotional or physical harm, consider reevaluating your relationship to determine if your situation is safe.

That serious. Short of that, even well-intentioned, positive changes in your spouse can still be distressing, frustrating, and confusing.

Change! = Adapting? = Distress!

On your wedding day, you knew that you, your spouse, and your marriage relationship wouldn’t remain exactly the same. Of course, there would be changes! The honeymoon phase passed. Seasons of life bring changes, and shifting circumstances like careers and children offer new challenges, too. 

But maybe your spouse has really changed. Perhaps you’re feeling insecure, or like you’re being stretched beyond your ability to adapt in a relationship that feels unpredictable. That HURTS. That’s Change-Pain.

Heads Up! Your Change-Pain reflex might be to go for the “quick fix” and… change your spouse. 

Change-Pain whispers: Just apply pressure to your spouse in the right spot, in the right way to, you know, change the change. It’s tempting – but be careful with your reflexes. Change-Pain can make us react to our spouse in unhealthy ways. 

You don’t want to make things worse.

In The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, Dr. John Gottman says, “People can change only if they feel that they are basically liked and accepted the way they are. When people feel criticized, disliked, and unappreciated, they are unable to change. Instead, they feel under siege and dig in to protect themselves.” Perhaps you’ve seen this play out already.  

We have to negotiate and navigate change. This requires (hard) conversations and resilience. Melissa Ferrari, psychotherapist and counselor, offers essential advice about talking through changes with your spouse:

“Relationships can survive arguments but generally not threats.”

You know when you go to the doctor, and they ask you to rate your pain on a scale of 1-10? 

Imagine a scale for Change-Pain.

How would you rate that?

1 Bear with me; I have to ask. Have you changed in a way you might not have noticed?

Looked at things from your spouse’s perspective? Are you balancing your concerns for yourself with concerns for your spouse? Are your feelings and responses proportional to the change in your spouse? In a healthy way, openly and honestly share how you feel.

2-3 Has there been a change in circumstances? Big or small? Good or bad?

Changing circumstances usually change people. Acknowledging this isn’t an excuse, but it may explain some things. Talk with your spouse about it. Be honest, direct, and kind. Express your concerns and feelings and be willing to listen to theirs. Working through this can strengthen your relationship.

4-5 Do the changes in your spouse conflict with your needs, desires, priorities, or goals? Do you relate to each other differently?

These aren’t small things, but you can work through them. Your spouse might have no idea how you feel. Start there. Try to be positive, flexible, and hopeful.

6-7 Feeling deceived or duped?

Was there a Major Thing you and your spouse discussed before you married, and now your spouse has changed their mind? These situations can easily make you feel uncertain, insecure – even cheated. Get the support you need. Your conversations with your spouse may need to be mediated by a couple’s counselor or therapist. That’s okay. 

8-9 Have changes radically impacted your relationship or put it at risk?

Practice curiosity and share your concerns with your spouse. Prioritize staying connected. Explore the little daily actions that keep a couple connected. Psychologist Dr. Jamie Long drops some wisdom here: Marriage is not a noun; it’s a verb. It isn’t something you get. It’s something you do. Don’t settle.

10 This needs to be taken extremely seriously. Is there emotional or physical abuse?

Are you scared or nervous to disagree with your spouse? Do you feel safe? Bring in the professionals and even the law NOW. (For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here, or contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse 24/7 at 1−800−799−7233.)

Change (and your threshold for adapting to it) exists on a spectrum. Is it possible to communicate and negotiate to a middle ground you can BOTH live with? Not just to keep going, but to keep growing?

Your spouse has changed. BUT, you can only control one thing: YOU. Please don’t let this be discouraging – it’s empowering!

How we respond to challenges forges our identity.

What happens next might be tricky. Working toward growth and connection will probably require time, energy, commitment, or even a brave acceptance of something new. Get help when you need it. 

Marriage is hard sometimes. It might feel like a mountain to climb if your spouse has changed. But, if you choose to climb, you’ll be a marriage-mountain-climbing marvel. 

And soon, you’ll be enjoying the view

Sources:

You Are Not the Person I Married | Psychology Today

How to Navigate and Embrace Change in Your Relationships | PsychCentral

12 Thirty-Second Ways to Connect With Your Spouse | Psychology Today

7 Small Ways Spouses Can Stay Connected

Please use the resources below to address your specific needs:

What to Do When Your Spouse Disappoints You

What to Do When You Disagree With Your Spouse

Working Through Resentment With Your Spouse

8 Things You Should Never Do During an Argument With Your Spouse

5 Tips for Understanding Your Strong-Willed Spouse

What to Do When Your Spouse Doesn’t Meet Your Expectations

How to Communicate Better With Your Spouse

6 Ways To Agree To Disagree With My Spouse

How to Deal with a Spouse Who Can’t Handle Conflict

What to Do When Your Spouse Is Toxic

What To Do When You Disappoint Your Spouse

When you handle disappointment well, you can grow closer.

Disappointment is a revelation. Disappointment in marriage – doubly so. Sadly, we usually don’t sit with it long enough to learn all we should. When you disappoint your spouse, you are faced with several choices. We’ll look at some practical actions you can take, but first, you need to address your relationship with disappointment. Remember, you aren’t alone in this. I’ve been there so much I’ve made up words for my options.

When you disappoint your spouse, you can choose:

1. “Self-Regretrospect.”

This is looking back on what you did, feeling appropriate regret, and learning from it. I can totally see how that disappointed my spouse. I need to make it right with them and learn from this.

This is sitting WITH the disappointment you caused.

2. “Self-Vulnercade.

This is barricading your vulnerability. It’s not a big deal. They disappoint me all the time. I would never do that. Just get over it.

This is sitting AWAY from the disappointment you caused.

3. “Self-Crucifiction.

This is fictional martyrdom. I’m the worst! Why do I always screw everything up? I can’t do anything right! I’m terrible!

This is sitting IN the disappointment you caused.

If you can muster some self-regretrospection and sit with the disappointment you inflicted, you’re in a place to learn something valuable. Disappointment reveals where hope is. You’re disappointed the recipe didn’t turn out because you hoped it would be tasty. You’re disappointed your team lost because you hoped they’d win. 

There is no disappointment without hope. 

So. You’ve disappointed your spouse. They’re understandably upset. Now, think about the hopes your spouse has that were let down. Be specific. They could be hopes for particular actions or hopes for certain character qualities. They could be hopes for a special kind of relationship. Learn into it. 

What better way to grow closer to your spouse than to understand their hopes?

I’ve been married for 28 years. Do you know what I’ve learned about disappointing my spouse and being disappointed? It happens often, but worse, we usually totally waste it. 

We don’t learn anything from it, so our relationship doesn’t grow. But disappointment is fertile soil for bitterness and resentment, even in the healthiest of marriages. For both of you. ¡No Bueno!

Sadly, it’s taken most of my 28 years of marriage for me to realize that we rarely have the right discussion/argument/fight. Instead of defending & deflecting, instead of wilting & wallowing, I should own more. Take more responsibility. And then explore my wife’s hopes. Study them. Celebrate them. THIS: Protect her hopes because they’re connected to her dreams.

That’s all good in theory, but let’s get practical.

“What if my spouse’s hopes are unrealistic, impossible, and romanticized? I’ll always end up disappointing them!” 

That’s a great point and a valid question. Our hopes need to be continually evaluated, calibrated, and recalibrated. But remember, hope by definition is a stretch between what is and what could be. 

Hope in marriage should stretch you as individuals and as a couple, but hope should never break you. If you’re continually being broken, that’s not hope; that’s hurt, and it needs to be addressed. The goal is to keep growing as you keep going. 

What do you do short-term when you disappoint your spouse? Like, now?

Your spouse’s hopes have been dashed and they are hurt and disappointed. Of course, this is not where you want to park your relationship.

You can hear and validate your spouse’s feelings in the moment and explore their hopes and expectations later.

(1.) Own your actions, words, and attitudes. 

(2,) Acknowledge your spouse’s feelings.

(3.) Apologize for disappointing your spouse. 

(4.) Then, at the right time, ask questions and listen to the answers. 

“What do you think is the hope driving that?” or “What is the hope beneath that?”

It might be trust, respect, feeling heard, feeling cherished – who knows? But that’s what you’re actually working on – not just dishes, taking out the trash, helping with the kids, folding laundry, and sending 😍 😍 😍 texts. 

★ Heyo! Your spouse might realize they need to address their hopes and expectations. Maybe they go beyond a healthy stretch to an unhealthy setup for perpetual disappointment. This is an ongoing convo that should strengthen your bond. This is the heart of marital growth.

Homebuilding is Hopebuilding.

Your goal isn’t to stop disappointing your spouse. It’s way deeper. Your goal is to always be working to protect their hopes. When your spouse sees you working to that end, so many of life’s disappointments, big or small, just seem to… fade… away.

Other blogs:

5 Ways to Reduce Resentment in Your Marriage – First Things First

How to Overcome Built-Up Resentment in Marriage – First Things First

How to Stop Resentment – First Things First

What to Do When Your Spouse Disappoints You – First Things First

Happy New Year! Did you make all your resolutions? What are your goals for this year? Whether you made some or not, I’d like to challenge you to add one resolution: Make this year one of growth for your marriage.

Marriage isn’t easy, but a great marriage is achievable with intentionality and commitment. You can form and keep habits to help you strengthen your relationship and grow your marriage in this new year. 

Here are six good habits to start for your marriage:

1. Be intentional about intimacy.

I get it. Life can be hectic. We all have those times when we let intimacy slip a little. With intentionality, you can make intimacy a central part of marriage. But intimacy isn’t just sex. That’s part of it, but there is much more to it. There are actually six types of intimacy: intellectual, experiential, emotional, spiritual, physical, and sexual. When you’re intentional about increasing intimacy in these areas, your marriage grows deeper.

2. Date regularly.

Regular date nights are crucial to a healthy marriage. There are numerous benefits to date nights as well. Here are some of them:

  • Help couples connect
  • Build resilience
  • Increase happiness

Date nights don’t have to be expensive, either. You can get creative and go for a picnic, enjoy a park together, or just grab a coffee or hot tea and chat. Dates don’t have to be limited to the evening, so get creative with what works best for your schedules. If you don’t date regularly, start with once a month and increase frequency to fit your lifestyle. Pull out those calendars and make sure you’re both aware of what each other has going on. Schedule your date nights so you don’t book something else over them. 

3. Express appreciation for each other.

As we navigate the daily grind, it can be easy to take each other for granted. Expressing appreciation helps connect us, and it starts with a simple “thank you.” Science tells us the benefits are enormous. Helping our relationship thrive and making us physically healthier are just a couple of advantages. Make gratitude an everyday habit in your marriage.

4. Play together.

Remember how fun it was to date before you got married? If playing is no longer part of your relationship, it’s time to create a new habit. Playing together can range from just being goofy to playing games together. My wife and I have always enjoyed a good Nerf battle.

5. Make time to talk.

Communication is essential in any relationship, but it’s at the core of a healthy marriage. We must make time to talk daily to strengthen our relationship. Setting aside at least five minutes per day to talk with your spouse can make you both feel more connected and understood. This means sitting down face to face – no technology, no kids – just the two of you. According to Dr. John Gottman, “If you don’t work at communication, the relationship will deteriorate over time, just like a car that’s not taken care of will fall apart.”

6. Share your dreams and goals.

Remember when you were dating, and you’d share your dreams? Well, don’t let that die! Our dreams change as we get older, and that’s ok, but keep sharing your dreams. My wife and I started keeping a dream journal a couple of years ago. Nothing complicated – we just grabbed some notebooks. We started writing down places we wanted to go, things we wanted to accomplish, and any other dreams we had. 

Also share your career, health, and financial goals, or whatever they are. If you set goals for the new year, share those. Be each other’s accountability partner and cheerleader. Your marriage will thrive when you’re growing together. 

Start this year off by forming habits to deepen your connection and strengthen your marriage. Although it takes time to create a new habit, the time it takes depends on you. Your marriage is worth the effort and focus. Don’t give up! Keep working to make this the best year yet for your marriage.

Other blogs:

Couples Who Play Together – First Things First

What to Do When My Spouse Feels Unappreciated – First Things First

5 Keys to Being Thankful in Marriage

6 Exercises to Strengthen Emotional Intimacy in Your Marriage

What to Do When Your Spouse Disappoints You

A healthy response to disappointment can be a game-changer for your marriage.

Disappointment hurts, especially from the one you love the most. And when your spouse disappoints you, you probably experience several emotions. Anger. Frustration. Hurt. Sadness. Bewilderment. (What were they thinking? Right?) 

Disappointment in your spouse can spark uncertainty and shake your trust. It might even make you wonder if you can rely on them at all. 

First, let me just say: You’re not alone, and every married person disappoints their spouse at some point. Your feelings are honest, legit, and okay. And even though disappointment is common in marriage, knowing that doesn’t really make things easier. So let’s talk about it. 

Some things to consider: 

Unmet expectations breed disappointment. 

Everybody enters marriage with a certain standard in mind.1 This is a good thing. It means you have relationship goals. You want your marriage to thrive. If your spouse lets you down, it hinders those goals. Enter disappointment and the emotions that follow. 

Ask yourself: 

What do you expect from your spouse? How do your expectations connect to your overall relationship goals? 

Disappointment comes in different flavors.

Although everybody experiences disappointment in marriage, it’s not all the same. It may stem from a specific issue. I can’t believe they forgot to take the trash out… again. Or, it can be more general. This is not how I thought it’d be.  

Disappointment can also happen over seemingly minor or explicitly major issues (whether it’s the trash or infidelity). Of course, disappointing situations feel major to you. That’s why they’re disappointing

Healthy responses to disappointment may be somewhat different depending on the situation.2 The big lesson here is to become aware of why you’re disappointed. 

Ask yourself: 

What exactly did your spouse do or not do that disappointed you? 

Is the disappointment in something specific or general? Issues that are minor or major? 

You are coping with your disappointment in one way or another. 

You can’t help but respond, whether involuntarily or by choice. Even if you’re not sure what to do, you may feel angry, passive-aggressive, secretly imagine getting back at them, or avoid the issue altogether. 

However, there are healthy and unhealthy ways to cope and respond. Choosing to respond in a healthy way is key to working through the disappointment.

Ask yourself: 

How are you coping or responding right now? Would you say your responses are healthy or unhealthy? 

Be careful about what your disappointment might lead you to assume. 

When your spouse disappoints you, it usually doesn’t mean

  • He or she is a bad person.
  • They aren’t right for you.
  • Your marriage is doomed.3

At the least, it means that expectations need to be clear. And for the more serious offenses, your partner may need help to overcome certain behaviors. (More on that in a bit.) 

Ask yourself: 

Why might your spouse have acted (or failed to act) the way they did that led to your disappointment? 

What do you do, then, when your spouse disappoints you? How do you handle it? 

  • Reframe it. Ironically, even though it feels like your disappointment drives you further away from your spouse, it can be an opportunity to grow closer. Try looking at it as a chance to clarify what you both expect and strengthen your marriage goals. 
  • Express it, but being aware of your composure is key. Remember: How you come across when you explain your disappointment influences your spouse’s response. 
  • Have forgiveness at the ready. Forgiveness is a process. But it’s tough to move forward if you harbor resentment and bitterness. 
  • Re-clarify your expectations. What do you specifically hope for from your spouse? Does your spouse think they can successfully meet your expectations? Work on compromises and talk about how expectations can be realistic and shared.
  • Ask your spouse how you can help each other be more successful at meeting expectations. 
  • Continually affirm your spouse for their effort. 

Realize that it might be best to seek a professional counselor’s advice at some point. This is especially true if your spouse’s behavior is recurring or addictive, or if they show apathy or disinterest in working toward a solution. Seeing a therapist together is best. But if they won’t go with you, seeing a counselor on your own can help you find healthy ways to cope. 

It’s not fun when your spouse disappoints you, but it is normal. And it’s a chance to be in a better place today than you were yesterday. Choosing healthy responses can help you grow closer to your spouse in the midst of disappointment.

Sources:

1Baucom, Epstein, N., Sayers, S., & Sher, T. G. (1989). The Role of Cognitions in Marital Relationships: Definitional, Methodological, and Conceptual Issues. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 57(1), 31–38.

2Lazarus R.S., & Folkman, S. (1984). Stress, appraisal, and coping. New York: Springer-Verlag

3Vangelisti, & Alexander, A. L. (2002). Coping with Disappointment in Marriage: When Partners’ Standards Are Unmet. In Understanding Marriage (pp. 201–227). Cambridge University Press. 

How Much Should Healthy Couples Fight?

Maybe it's HOW you fight that matters.

Can healthy couples fight too much? How much fighting is healthy? 

No two people agree on everything. That’s undoubtedly true in marriage. (If it’s not true in yours, then I’d really like to meet you. And really… why are you even reading this?) The result is often misunderstanding, a failure to see eye to eye, and a tug-of-war to get each other’s point across. Sometimes, a fight ensues. 

An important caveat right off the bat: Many people say they “fight” when they argue or disagree. I’m guessing you’re reading this because you are experiencing “fighting” in marriage (if not, see the paragraph above). But for others, this word evokes memories of violence and abuse, which is never okay. For our purposes here, fighting is used to describe verbal disagreements. 

With that in mind, hear this loud and clear: Even happy, healthy couples fight. 

Congrats: You’re normal! 

A 2012 survey would even suggest that “highly happy couples” describe some of their arguments as “painful.” (Food for thought: The survey also indicates that these couples might be “highly happy” because they know, even during a fight, that they care about and want what’s best for each other. I’ll just leave that right here…) 

As a matter of fact, never fighting could indicate that the relationship is in a less-than-ideal place. Experts say that avoiding conflict and discussing differences can cause a buildup of frustration and resentment that leads to problems in the long run.1,2 

Truthfully, it’s not whether you fight or even necessarily how often you fight that matters. It’s how you fight that matters. 

Here are five warning signs that can tell you if your disagreements are unhealthy: 

1. The same, sore subject keeps coming up. Over. And Over. And Over…

Whether it’s how the dishes go on the rack, how one of you works too much, or the fact that your mother-in-law makes that annoying sound when she laughs… It always comes up and causes a ruckus. And it never gets resolved. 

2. Communication roadblocks emerge.

Researcher John Gottman identifies four negative communication patterns that cause trouble:

Criticism: Blaming, fault-finding, or attacking your spouse’s character

Contempt: Communicating with meanness, disrespect, sarcasm, ridicule, 

name-calling, 

and eye-rolling 

Defensiveness: Fishing for excuses, avoidance of accepting responsibility, or 

shifting 

blame back to your spouse

Stonewalling: Withdrawal from interaction, shutting down, or ceasing to respond 

to your spouse


YOU CAN BE HAPPILY MARRIED.

And no, that’s not just a fairytale. Sometimes we settle, we coexist, we go along to get along, or we just try to keep the damage to a minimum. There are no perfect marriages. There are also no unicorns. So what? You can always Maximize Your Marriage. You know what’s NOT a mythical creature? Your marriage being BETTER than you could ever imagine.

To help you write the next chapter of your marriage story, each module features…

  • A simple, easy-to-understand video lead by marriage experts,
  • A download to help you personalize the key concepts for your marriage, and
  • Action items to transform your marriage as you go through the course.

You’ll have access to two marriage experts every step of the way to answer any questions or just give you a little encouragement. (THIS is what makes Maximize Your Marriage customized & personalized!)


3. You feel like you understand each other less.

Disagreements and differences of opinion can be opportunities to better understand your spouse’s point of view. However, when your main goal is to get your point across or simply “win” the argument, you come out on the other side with less understanding of the person you love the most. 

4. You can’t reach a resolution.

No matter the subject of disagreement, it’s always left open-ended. No solution, compromise, or forgiveness. Not even an agreement to disagree. And because of that, there’s no sense of closure. 

5. You’re not okay to agree to disagree.

Often, couples use this phrase to simply avoid arguing. However, it can be healthy to recognize that you’re not going to see things eye to eye. One study indicates that only about a third of the couples’ conversations are resolvable issues. The rest are simply ongoing areas of disagreement.3 This doesn’t mean a couple can’t find workable compromises. It just means you’re not going to see things the same way on a particular subject. 

If you’re like me, you never experience any of these warning signs… amiright? The truth is, they pop up in every couple’s communication from time to time. Remember: Healthy couples fight. But when these signs become a regular pattern, beware: Trouble’s a-brewin’. 

The good news is that you can avoid all these things. Healthy communication and conflict skills can be learned and practiced. (Looky here and here and here). Outside help is sometimes a great idea, too. A trusted mediator can help determine compromises. And don’t be afraid to use a professional counselor to help get through more deep-seated issues. 

There are times when it’s good and healthy for couples to fight, but it really does matter how you fight. You’ve got this. 

Sources:

1Hackman, J.Richard., Collaborative intelligence: Using teams to solve hard problems, Oakland, CA: Berrit-Koeller, 2011. 

2Orbuch, Terri L., Five Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage from Good to Great, Austin, TX: River Grove Books, 2015. 

3Gottman, John M., The Science of Trust: Emotional Attunement for Couples, New York, NY: WW Norton & Company, 2011.

Other blogs:

10 Ways To Know If Your Marriage Is Toxic (And What To Do About It)

Should You Apologize to Your Spouse for Something You Didn’t Do?

How to Be More Compassionate to Your Spouse – First Things First

How differing drives can cause tension – and what to do about it!

5 Keys to Being Thankful in Marriage

Being grateful can boost your relationship.

Being thankful in marriage is packed with research-backed benefits! 

I know… this sounds like the beginning of a cheesy infomercial. But unlike many infomercials, this little factoid really is backed by science. 

  • Studies show that expressing gratitude for your spouse strengthens your marriage.
  • Being thankful is associated with increased long-term happiness in marriage.2
  • Being thankful can have a healing effect when there are rifts in the relationship.3
  • Thankfulness can help a person reframe negative experiences in a more positive light, giving a more hopeful outlook on their marriage.4
  • And get this: Showing and receiving gratitude is associated with more satisfying sex in marriage.5,6 

Thank goodness for being thankful! 

But it’s important to understand that gratitude in marriage is a lot like a muscle: You need to exercise it. You need to strengthen and flex your thankfulness to enjoy the full benefit. 

So how can you practice and strengthen thankfulness for a muscled-up marriage? Check out these keys to being thankful in marriage:

1. Journal your gratitude.

There is strong evidence that journaling what you are thankful for in your marriage improves overall well-being and marriage health.6 Try writing down three things you appreciate about your spouse daily. Look back on past journal entries for a dose of perspective and encouragement, especially on the tougher days.

2. Don’t just tell your spouse thank you. Let them know how they have helped you.


When you rub my shoulders, it helps me feel less anxious. Thank you! 


I sure appreciate you cooking dinner; it made this day a lot less hectic for me!


Telling your spouse specifically how they meet your needs has been shown to build a stronger relationship. It can also reinforce your spouse’s positive feelings about your marriage.

3. Keep a picture in your pocket.

Or on the visor. Or on your phone. (Wherever you’ll be reminded of your spouse regularly.) Gratitude is often prompted through our senses. Having a visual reminder of your spouse provides a constant nudge to count your marital blessings. 

4. Practice mindfulness.

Doing mindful exercises to practice being “in the moment” can promote thankfulness.9 Mindful breathing, walks, and meditation10 are just a few practices that can strengthen gratitude and contribute to a healthy marriage. 

5. Go through the motions (even when you aren’t feeling particularly thankful).

Robert A. Emmons, gratitude researcher at the University of California, Davis, explains that the motion of gratitude can trigger the emotion of gratitude. Prodding yourself to smile, say thank you, or write thank you notes to your spouse can help flex those thankfulness muscles. These actions help jumpstart more sincere feelings of gratitude. 

Just like any muscle, being thankful in your marriage is something you can stretch and strengthen. Otherwise, gratitude can atrophy and weaken. If you want to get your marital thankfulness in shape, try one of the keys above. You can thank me later! 

Sources

1Algoe, S. B. (2012). Find, remind, and bind: The functions of gratitude in everyday relationships. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 6(6), 455–469. 

2Gordon, C. L., Arnette, R. A. ., & Smith, R. E. (2011). Have you thanked your spouse today?: Felt and expressed gratitude among married couples. Personality and Individual Differences, 50(3), 339–343.

3Emmons, R. A., & Stern, R. (2013). Gratitude as a Psychotherapeutic Intervention. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 69(8), 846–855. 

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6Brady, A., Baker, L. R., Muise, A., & Impett, E. A. (2021). Gratitude Increases the Motivation to Fulfill a Partner’s Sexual Needs. Social Psychological & Personality Science, 12(2), 273–281.

7Emmons, R. A., & McCullough, M. E. (2003). Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(2), 377–389. 

8Park, Y., Visserman, M. L., Sisson, N. M., Le, B. M., Stellar, J. E., & Impett, E. A. (2020). How can I thank you? Highlighting the benefactor’s responsiveness or costs when expressing gratitude. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. 

9Eyring, J. B., Leavitt, C. E., Allsop, D. B., & Clancy, T. J. (2021). Forgiveness and Gratitude: Links Between Couples’ Mindfulness and Sexual and Relational Satisfaction in New Cisgender Heterosexual Marriages. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 47(2), 147–161. 

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