Resolve to Create A Culture of Appreciation in Your Marriage
If you want make a New Year’s Resolution that will improve your relationship in 2020 consider this – research shows that happy couples express appreciation toward each other 20 times for every one expression of complaint. These couples have what we refer to as a Culture of Appreciation that protects the bond between them when negativity and conflict show up. If you choose only one relationship goal for 2020, Creating a Culture of Appreciation in your marriage could be the most simple yet powerful option.
The Science of Appreciation in Marriage
In new relationships appreciation comes naturally. I once heard a young woman thank her new boyfriend for brushing his teeth! There is actually a physiological cause for this. In the early phase of romantic relationships our bodies produce large amounts of a hormone called Oxytocin. Oxytocin is known as the gullibility hormone. It causes us to gloss-over each other’s shortcomings and and exaggerate each other’s positive characteristics and behaviors. In short, Oxytocin creates an artificial Culture of Appreciation that we all know as “puppy-love” or “the honeymoon-phase.”
Maintaining a Culture of Appreciation after the Oxytocin begins to wane is worth the effort. Research shows that couples with a Culture of Appreciation enjoy the following benefits:
- They expect positive interactions from each other.
- Their positive expectations naturally lead them to act with more kindness and gentleness towards each other.
- They are more likely to give the benefit of the doubt when negativity occurs in the relationship which results in less conflict.
- Their positive behavior elicits positive responses from each other in a pleasant cycle of self-fulfilling prophecy.
A Culture of Appreciation is where we all want to live.
How Appreciation Gives Way to Contempt
When the glow of new relationship fades and our bodies stop dumping Oxytocin into the bloodstream, the focus can easily shift from what we appreciate about our partner to their flaws and mistakes. Eventually we find ourselves wondering “what went wrong?”
By the time couples find their way into my office they tend to define each other by their flaws. Studies have repeatedly demonstrated that couples in distress notice almost all of their partner’s negative behaviors but fail to notice 50% of their positive actions. In short, couples in distress lack a firm grasp on reality when it comes to accurately seeing their spouse. This is dangerous. The flaws may be real, but filtering out the positive and magnifying their spouse’s flaws twists couple’s perceptions of each other into inaccurate, negative caricatures.
Once this happens a Culture of Contempt prevails in the relationship. Couples living in a Culture of Contempt expect negativity from each other, and treat each other as such. They find it difficult to give the benefit of the doubt when negativity occurs in the relationship and have more frequent and more intense conflict. They find themselves caught in a miserable spiral of negative, self-fulfilling prophecy.
Contempt causes fondness and admiration to dwindle and severely damages a couple’s friendship. When friendship is lost, complete detachment isn’t far behind.
If you recognize a Culture of Contempt in your relationship, take heart – appreciation is the antidote to contempt.
How Create a Culture of Appreciation in Your Marriage
Even if your relationship has been sliding down this slippery-slope toward a Culture of Contempt for a long time you can turn it around and begin to create a Culture of Appreciation right now. Here are six things you can do to get started.
- Express appreciation for the small and mundane. If you don’t think you should thank your spouse for doing the dishes,
- In a culture of contempt we scan our spouse for what they do wrong and point it out to them. Do the opposite. Scan your spouse’s behavior for what they are doing right every day and when you see it, say it.
- Make a list of things you appreciate about your spouse and review it regularly. Share things from your list with your spouse.
- When you notice a flaw in your spouse, review your list. Seeing the flaw in the larger context will change how you feel.
- When you observe a flaw in your spouse, consider whether you have at least some of that same trait yourself. This helps keep us off the self-righteous high-horse.
- Click the link to download a PDF 7Week Guide For Creating Fondness and Admiration from the Gottman Institute. It has weekly exercises to complete that will help create the mindset you need to express genuine appreciation toward your spouse.
Good Intentions Don’t Create Change
Don’t read this article and rely on good intentions to create a Culture of Appreciation in your marriage. Research shows that the most common reason we fail to accomplish goals is a lack of visibility. You must have concrete reminders on a daily basis to express appreciation if you expect to create change. Here are a few suggestions:
- Tell your smartphone to remind you to express appreciation at 7am, 12pm, 6pm, and 8pm every day.
- Write “EXPRESS APPRECIATION” in your planner or calendar so that you see it every time you review your appointments.
- Take a marker and write “EXPRESS APPRECIATION” on index cards. Tape one to the dash of your car, the front of your refrigerator, your bathroom mirror, or anywhere else you may need to be reminded.
- Ask a friend to be your accountability partner and check-in at least once a week.
After you put in the work expressing appreciation in your marriage will become a habit. If you feel like you need help to get started, schedule an appointment with one of our Gottman Method Couples Counselors today.