Does your husband know that you appreciate him?
Or have you ever thought, “Do I appreciate my husband?” We’ve been talking this month about direct communication, and we’ve looked at why direct communication can be difficult (and even why it’s difficult specifically for women and men); what the elements of direct communication are; and so much more.
We’ve been focusing mostly on how to talk to your spouse when you have an issue that’s bothering you.
Today, though, I’d like to take this from a different vantage point and ask, “do you directly communicate how much your love and appreciate your mate?”
Let’s talk John Gottman’s 5:1 ratio rule or positive to negative interactions
John Gottman runs a marriage institute out of the University of Washington where they’ve been studying couples and observing couples for decades. And they’ve pinpointed what behaviours make a marriage thrive, and what behaviours can cause a marriage to tank.
Here’s what’s important to understand: They didn’t find that conflict was the problem. Healthy couples have just as much conflict as unhealthy couples. The difference is not in whether or not there’s conflict; the difference is in how you handle the conflict and in how you treat each other outside of the conflict. Do you appreciate your spouse? Do you try to connect with your spouse and know your spouse? Do you show love?
When we do the positive things to build our relationship, then the “negative” things, like conflict, don’t hurt us as much.
And what he found was that you need 5 positive interactions on the whole for every 1 negative one, if you’re going to have a really happy marriage. In marriages that divorce, the ratio is about 1:1. So it’s not that they don’t have positive interactions–it’s just that they don’t have enough of them.
Positive interactions are like habits that turn us towards our spouses.
Gottman asserts that in good marriages, spouses are constantly scanning for “bids to connect”–when your spouse is trying to connect with you. Good spouses look for those moments and use them.
- So when your spouse turns towards you, you turn towards them
- When they walk in the room, you move towards them
- When they start a conversation, you ask probing questions to keep the conversation going
- When they reach out a hand, you reach one back
When your spouse is turning towards you (a “bid to connect”), you follow-up on that bid.
Now, let’s take it one step further: In successful marriages, spouses scan for things to appreciate about their mate.
In successful marriages, a wife is saying, “How can I show I appreciate my husband?”
I actually wrote about this in my book 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage:
Catch Him Doing Good.
My friend Sharol Josephson is co-director of FamilyLife Canada, and we speak frequently together at conferences. In her parenting talk, she relates how she learned early on with her sons that if she wanted to mold their behavior to look like Jesus, she had to be proactive. Sharol deliberately started looking for anything they did that was praiseworthy, and then she’d point it out to them. “I noticed that you saw when your teammate felt left out and you went over and included him in the conversation. That made me so proud of you.” Or perhaps, “I noticed that you didn’t let yourself get riled up when your brother was poking you today, but you just went quietly to your room. You’re learning well how to avoid getting angry.” Sharol noticed the things they did well and then spoke them out loud. And her boys thrived.
That got me thinking about marriage. What if we made it a habit to catch our husbands doing good?
If you want a healthy way to show you appreciate your mate, please see 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage.
Whatever we focus on expands.
If you are focused on all the ways that your spouse lets you down, you will see those things. But if you start scanning for things to praise in your spouse, you will start noticing those things, too!
Please note what I am not saying: I am not saying that you don’t bring up the things that bother you.
Not at all! But when you can appreciate your husband for the things he does right, it actually makes the conversations about the things that you want changed much easier.
First, you go into those more difficult conversations with appreciate for your spouse in your mind as well. You know that you don’t want to destroy the relationship or punish him; you simply want to build intimacy. And building intimacy means addressing the things in your relationship that are taking away from intimacy.
And second, your husband (or wife) knows that you appreciate them, and so it’s easier to hear about the things that do need to change.
Again, if you’re dealing with an emotionally destructive marriage, then that is in a different category, and please read yesterday’s post. But quite often we’ve simply gotten into negative relationship dynamics where that ratio isn’t 5:1 but is more like 3:1 or 2:1 and the relationship actually feels quite antagonistic (remember, 1:1 is divorce level). If we can change those dynamics, then it makes everything so much easier! Your tension level goes down. The relationship laughs more. You feel more affectionate and closer. And then it’s easier to talk about mental load; about sex; about finances; about kids; about anything!
Plus you get that gratitude to be married to your spouse again.
Often we get into these negative spirals when we see mostly the negative about our relationship.
It isn’t that the negative doesn’t matter or that it isn’t real; it’s just that it’s likely not the whole story. Practice scanning for things to praise, and you train yourself to see the rest of the story. And then you can deal with all of the issues in your marriage in a much healthier way.
So let me give you 10 quick practical ideas to say, “I appreciate my husband”:
- When he connects with a child in some way (calms the child down; reads a book; plays with them), call it out and appreciate it
- When he’s tired, thank him for how hard he works
- As he’s caring for some part of the household tasks, thank him for them
- After you have friends in, appreciate your husband for being the kind of person you can socialize with.
- If you’ve just enjoyed watching a Netflix show together, tell him that you love how you can enjoy similar shows
- When you remember something about your past, tell him that you love how he was a part of your life back then
- If he talks to your family on the phone or texts them, tell him that you appreciate how he connects with those who matter to you
- If he says grace for dinner, tell him that you’re so glad you have a husband who remembers to thank God for things
- If he ran an errand for you, thank him for taking time for you
- After you tell him about your day, thank him for listening and always being there for you to talk to
See how they’re simple? They don’t have to be big things. Just notice the things he’s doing that you appreciate about him, when you see him building his relationship with you or with others, and when you see him showing good character or showing effort for others. And just call it out.
Often we don’t thank him for mowing the grass because we do so much more! Or we don’t thank him for reading to the kids because he hardly ever does. But if you just simply notice when he does–then that creates a healthier dynamic. Thanking him for reading to the kids, for instance, doesn’t mean that you’re saying, “I think you parent perfectly and you do just as much as me and you have no room for improvement.” It simply means you’re saying, “I notice right now that Jenny feels loved and close to you, and I’m glad of that.” That’s all.
Direct communication needs to involve direct appreciation for your spouse.
Can you do it? And if you did, do you think it would make a difference?
Challenge yourself to thank your husband (or wife) for two things today! And see how it changes how you think about your spouse.
What do you think? Is it hard to express appreciation? Let’s talk in the comments!
The Direct Communication Series
- 5 Reasons Direct Communication is Difficult
- 6 Elements of Direct Communication
- Why Direct Communication Feels Mean--and Why It's Not
- 3 Reasons Christian Resources Tell Women Direct Communication is a Sin
- 5 Reasons Christian Teaching Discourages Men from Communicating Directly
- The Direct Communication Podcast
- The Real Solution to Nagging
- 10 Tips to Talking to Your Spouse About Your Sex Life
- 10 Ways to Show Appreciation to Your Spouse
- How to Have that Conversation You've Been Putting Off
And please see my book 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage, with lots on having difficult conversations and resolving conflict!
Sheila Wray Gregoire
Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum
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