Around Thanksgiving and Christmas, we often emphasize gratitude and giving thanks for the blessings God has given us. Most years, it can feel easy for us to think of circumstances in life that we are grateful for. Maybe it’s a milestone your child recently hit. An opportunity at work. A recent conversation with a friend. An exciting trip.
But when was the last time you considered the ways you are grateful for your spouse?
For many of us, if we’re honest, it’s probably been a while.
Amid the busyness of work, school schedules, social calendars, and the upcoming holidays, we tend to forget to remember all the ways we appreciate and are grateful for one another. And it’s all too easy to slide into a negative perspective where we over-focus on our spouse’s weaknesses rather than noticing all the ways they are a treasure in our lives.
The Benefits of Cultivating Gratitude
In Philippians 4:8, Scripture guides us in how we should direct our thoughts:
“…whatever is true, whatever is noble,
whatever is right, whatever is pure,
whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable
—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—
think about such things.”
But why is it so important to focus our minds on what we appreciate about what’s going on in our lives and our marriage?
Psychologists have actually done much research into the power of our thinking and there is a clear benefit to the things we notice and give our attention to and how we think about those things.
The science behind Cognitive Behavioral Therapy points out that our thoughts have the power to influence our behavior and in turn what we believe about the world around us.
Every time our brains notice how our spouse forgot to pick up milk from the store again, or that they loaded the dishwasher the “wrong” way, or even the thought that they haven’t had time for us, we are setting ourselves up to develop a negative belief about our spouse. This is usually a distorted belief because we haven’t taken the time to draw our thoughts towards all the positive ways our spouse has shown up for us. (You can learn more about this idea here.)
This is also referred to as “negativity bias.” We tend to more readily notice and dwell on negative things in our environment rather than the positive. We actually have to work twice as hard to consciously notice and dwell on the positive things in our environment. But when we do, it can lead to a more positive outlook on life, better resilience, and increased satisfaction in our relationships.
When we take time to notice the good around us and all the ways we are grateful for our spouse, it literally has the power to change our thoughts and emotions regarding them.
Pretty amazing how God made us, isn’t it?
Putting It Into Practice
The key to putting this into practice begins with training our minds to notice the positive things about our spouse. Here are some ideas of how you can pay attention to what you appreciate about them this week:
- Make a quick list of what you appreciate about your spouse.
- Physically pause when you notice something you appreciate to give your mind time to dwell on that experience.
- Set aside a few minutes each morning to dwell on the list you made of what you are grateful for!
- Make a game of it: Get a trophy and “award” it to your spouse every time you appreciate something they do, say, or just for being themselves. See how many times you can pass it back and forth throughout the week!
- Look for opportunities to compliment your spouse throughout the day.
- Each time your spouse does something kind or pitches in around the house, pause mentally to mark, remember, and appreciate them.
- Write a letter to your spouse reminding them of how thankful you are for who they are and what they bring to your relationship.
- Pray for your spouse regularly and practice praising God for them!
In marriage, we are all going to encounter differences. We’re different people with different perspectives. These differences can be as simple as how we make a meal for the kids or as big as how we make decisions. If we’re not careful, these differences can cause strife and conflict when we over-focus on the negative of how our differences cause frustration.
But when we pause to cultivate a heart of gratitude for our spouse, we can begin to view those differences for what they are—just differences.
Let’s take some time this month to cultivate gratitude for our spouse and see what a difference that makes in how we connect with one another! You’ll find that the more you start to notice the ways their unique gifts are beneficial, the closer you will feel to them, the more your perspective will begin to shift, and the more unified you both will feel in your marriage.
Looking for a deeper dive into this topic? Check out this recent episode of our podcast!
Want a creative way to connect with your spouse? Conversation Starters for Couples are the perfect, simple way to connect with the one you love.