What to Do When My Spouse Feels Unappreciated

Even the smallest things can make the biggest difference.
By Chris Ownby
July 13, 2020

Showing appreciation in your marriage isn’t just a nice, sweet notion—your marriage may just depend on it. 

When I go to my favorite coffee shop, the barista behind the counter greets me by name and begins to pour what he already knows is my favorite brew. He then asks if I want my usual—“Cheddar bacon-onion muffin?” (Don’t knock it until you try it. It’ll change your life.) I ask him how his wife and daughter are, I say thank you, and I try to tip a little bigger than normal.

I appreciate my barista. 

When my wife comes home from working hard at her job to provide a portion of our family’s financial security, she greets me with a kiss (no matter how tired she is). She then proceeds to pick up the small messes around the kitchen that the kids (and quite possibly I) left lying around. She’ll then start dinner on the stove, depending on the night (since we all take turns cooking during the week). 

  • In all honesty, there are times I fail to ask how her day went. 
  • I’ve gone long periods before without telling her thank you for everything she does. 
  • I say this with my head hung low: it used to be even more rare that I surprised my wife with some token of my appreciation: flowers, a nicely written card, anything

I appreciate my wife—I really do. But, at certain times in our marriage, if you were to weigh the observable evidence, it would look like I appreciate my barista a lot more than my wife. Ouch. 

Just how important is appreciation in marriage?

It’s been shown that being actively grateful (that is, actively showing your appreciation) is linked to higher levels of joy, optimism, and other positive emotions, and feeling less lonely. Feeling valued and appreciated by your spouse has been found to be a major indicator (the number one indicator in one study) of a happy, healthy marriage. 

Sara Algoe, a Ph.D. researcher from the  University of North Carolina, gives us perhaps one of the most convincing pieces of evidence out there pointing to the importance of appreciation in marriage. She proposes what she terms as the find-remind-and-bind theory of gratitude

The basic idea: showing appreciation and gratitude helps you find a new relationship partner (remember the appreciation you showed your spouse when you were first dating?) or reminds you of the relationship partner you already have. And (here’s the big kicker): showing gratitude to your spouse actually binds you together for a stronger relationship

So, yeah, showing appreciation is kind of a big deal. Especially if what you want is a happy marriage and your spouse feels unappreciated.

And it seems to me that Algoe’s Find-Remind-and-Bind theory signals to all of us that showing gratitude helps your spouse feel important, loved, and appreciated. It also places all the great things about your spouse directly within view and actually strengthens your relationship. 

Your spouse wins. You win. Your marriage wins. 

Wait a minute… what if I’m the one who doesn’t feel appreciated in this relationship?

I hear you. Yes, you need appreciation as well. But think of it this way: the appreciation that you are shown (or not shown) is not something within your control. You can’t make your spouse show you appreciation (and if you could, it wouldn’t be sincere). ✩ But what you can control is the appreciation you show to your spouse. ✩ It usually takes one person to lead the dance in order for your partner to follow your rhythm. Up the ante on how much appreciation you show to your spouse. When you do, chances are good they’ll see your bet and possibly even raise you in the appreciation they show in return. 

Fortunately, showing appreciation in your marriage isn’t rocket science. As a matter of fact, it’s super simple.

Here are some things to keep in mind: 

  • Be on the lookout for daily opportunities to give appreciation. Make it your mission to notice and respond to at least one thing you see in your spouse every day that you can express appreciation for. Did she put her socks in the dirty clothes? Did he make sure the kids were quiet while you got a nap in? Or did they accomplish a work project? Weed the flower bed? Listen to your concern? Let them know that what they did didn’t go unnoticed and how much it means to you. 
  • Be sure to show appreciation for the everyday things they do. It’s one thing to positively acknowledge something your spouse does that is out of the ordinary. But it’s usually the normal, mundane things they do on a regular basis that tend to go unnoticed and unacknowledged: working hard every day at a job, reading to the kids, washing the coffee filter every morning. Let your spouse know you see these things and that you appreciate their attention to them each day, because, after all, these things help life together go much more smoothly
  • Be a student of your spouse and learn their language of appreciation. According to Dr. Gary Chapman, we all have a primary love language, a particular pathway through which we feel love and appreciation. Chapman has divided these languages into five groups: physical touch, words of affirmation, quality time, gifts, and acts of service. 

I really love it when my wife puts into words what she appreciates about me. When she verbalizes her love and appreciation (usually with more than just a “thank you”), it really means a lot. However, words don’t necessarily go as far for her as they do me. But when I show her that I appreciate how much she works by doing acts of service for her (like cleaning the kitchen, making the bed, feeding the dog… and without being asked), that’s when she feels truly appreciated. 

So ask yourself: What’s your spouse’s love language? And what can you do to speak that language to show how much you appreciate them?

Does your spouse feel unappreciated? You have everything in your power to change that. Do you not feel appreciated? Lead the dance and show the appreciation that you’re wanting. Find (your spouse every day), remind (yourself of all the ways to show appreciation), and watch the two of you bind together for a stronger marriage! 

Want more ideas on how to show appreciation to your spouse? Check out these wonderful articles and websites: 

PSA for Dads: Easy, Thoughtful Ways to Make Your Wife Feel Loved on Mother’s Day 

Keys to Effective Communication in Marriage

Join the Kindness Challenge

The Five Love Languages

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear that someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

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