My husband and I experienced quite a bit of conflict in our early years of marriage, and it could be distilled down to one reason: our love languages. He experiences love through encouraging words and acts of service. I feel loved from quality time and physical touch. The short story is these differences initially created tension and misunderstanding about how best to love each other.
One of the lessons I learned early on, however, is the power of gratitude for the small things. Once I realized that his acts of love were taking out the trash, doing the dishes, or changing a tire, I knew these deserved my heartfelt thanks.
And yet, it felt a little contrived to say thank you for something so ordinary. Beginning was awkward, but knowing the benefit it had, I began to verbally acknowledge the ways he displayed his love that I hadn’t seen before.
“Thank you for taking out the trash, Babe.”
“Thanks for tucking the kids into bed.”
“Thank you for paying that bill.”
“Thank you for remembering to set up the kids’ doctor’s appointment.”
“Thank you for arranging a sitter for date night.”
Were any of these actions extraordinary? Any above and beyond? Not really. Except the date night — we all know that’s a small miracle, y’all. But it’s the consistency I’m noticing, the way he participates in moving our family forward, and I want him to know I see it.
When I’ve talked to friends and clients at work about this generous expression of gratitude, the response is often, “Well, I don’t feel thankful for those things. It doesn’t feel genuine to say thank you when I don’t feel it.”
Well, that makes the gratitude about you and not your partner. You aren’t saying thanks so you will feel good — you’re saying it for them. So it isn’t necessary for you to feel warm and fuzzy every time.
Their small act of service is their love to you; your thankfulness is your love to them.
Others have responded to my suggestion with, “Well, my partner should be doing these things anyway. Why should I thank him for it?” That’s true. If your relationship is a true partnership, both you and your significant other should be looking for ways to make the family life run without needing to be asked or thanked. But isn’t it nicer to be acknowledged?
The truth is many of us feel unnoticed and taken for granted in our homes, relationships and families. The primary caregiver in most families often lands a surprising amount of the household chores as well, and most of the work goes unacknowledged. At the same time, working partners return daily to jobs they don’t always love because they’ve prioritized their family in a different way.
I hear husbands and wives grow weary under the repetitive, thankless burden of the mundane. They know their work is ordinary, but they want someone to notice their contribution. They want to matter. To be appreciated.
This is what “thank you” can do. These simple words are the powerful act of attention, of seeing the other. And being seen and loved, appreciated for who we are and what bring, is what we want most in life.
When we express gratitude to our partners for their contributions, however small, we are saying, “I appreciate how you served our family in this way. I see what you are doing, and it matters. Please don’t stop.”
It’s the most basic of psychological laws. Whatever we praise, we reinforce. Whatever we reinforce, we will see more of.
If we ignore the every day acts of service and love that make our little lives go, if we are always waiting for something extraordinary to praise, we will rarely feel grateful.
And here is the biggest thing: as soon as we start telling ourselves we don’t need to thank our spouses for the everyday efforts of life, we realize there is nothing left to thank them for, because ordinary everyday living is our whole life.
These moments of laundry and dishes and errands and school plays and tucking-ins are not the margins. These are all we have together. If we wait until our spouses do something extraordinary in order to express gratitude, we will lose out on the beauty of the every day. And the fact that this person, your best friend, is there to share it with you.
So let’s not miss what’s right in front of us. Look up from this post and around your home. See who’s in the beautiful mess with you, truly see the man, the woman across from you, see all they do and all they are and notice the tired but satisfied look on their face. Then say “Thank you.”