When we’re very young, we often cannot wait to grow up and leave homework behind. But a good thing about homework is that it can help us to practice new skills in a very focused way.
In this weekly feature, you’ll find suggestions for relationship skills to practice whether the relationship you want to apply the skill to is with a romantic partner, co-worker , friend or family member. These suggestions are based on research or on sex researchers’/therapists’ clinical experiences working with individuals or couples. So read on, practice and see what changes you can make in your relationships with a little effort.
This week’s skill? Practicing gratitude.
We are well trained to notice what we do not like in other people. If you pay attention at home or in the office you will often hear people say things like “My boss is always angry”, “My teacher is too bossy”, “My girlfriend is always nagging”, “My husband never helps out”, “My best friend is famous for being late”, “My kids are so ungrateful” or “My mom is driving me crazy”.
What we less often hear are praise, appreciation and gratitude, as in “My boss did a really nice thing for me today”, “My teacher made me feel really special”, “My girlfriend takes good care of me”, “My husband has a way of making me feel so loved”, “My best friend is having a really hard time lately, but she/he took the time to meet me for lunch”, “My kids have the kindest hearts” or “I really value the way my mom looks after me”.
The ironic thing is the bulk of our interactions with each other are kind or at least neutral, yet we tend to focus on the negative. Consider how your relationships could change if you acknowledged and praised what makes you feel good.
This week, consider making extra efforts to focus on what you feel grateful for or appreciative about when it comes to the people around you. Some research suggests that focusing on gratitude can help us to feel happier and more satisfied in our relationships, and expressing gratitude to our romantic partner or spouse may help to strengthen our most intimate relationships.
Some people like to try this exercise throughout the day. Others like to try it at night by focusing on three things that happened during the day that they feel grateful for and that have to do with other people’s kindness, generosity, personalities or other characteristics. Either strategy is an excellent beginning.
Again, bonus points if you can express them directly to another person.
Some examples of thoughts you might have or note at the end of the day:
I liked it when my partner/spouse set my cereal bowl and juice cup out on the table this morning.
I thought it was cool that my co-worker – who has been under a lot of personal stress – got the work done for our presentation.
I was impressed that my friend remembered our other friend’s birthday – she is always so thoughtful.
Some examples of ways you might express gratitude or appreciation without sounding too corny (but really, who cares if you sound corny – fear of sounding like a dork would be a sad reason not to enhance your relationships!):
“Thanks for emptying the dishwasher. I had a long day at work and it was the last thing I wanted to do today. I really appreciate that you did that.”
“I love that you made coffee this morning. It was a great start to my day. Thank you!”
(after someone compliments you on your outfit or clothes or work that you did), try “Thank you! That was really nice of you to say.” Or “Thanks, that makes my day!”
Practice this all week (or longer!) and see what happens to your relationships – and feel free to let me know how it goes. I like feedback.