[Editor's Note: While this article is focused on appreciation for couples, its tenets apply to all aspects of our lives and all types of relationships with the people we are in contact with in the course of our daily life.]
There is more hunger for love and appreciation in this world than for bread. — MOTHER TERESA
Appreciation helps you and your partner to reconnect by establishing a warm, positive climate. It is easy to start taking each other for granted. Marriage meetings reverse this tendency. They create a reservoir of good feelings and better communication skills.
How To Express Appreciation
This is the basic order for conducting the Appreciation part of your weekly meeting:
- One person goes first; for simplicity’s sake, let’s assume for now that this is you. (In practice, it usually works better to have the less verbal partner speak first.) You express appreciation now by saying everything you can think of that you specifically liked or admired about your partner during the past week.
- Your partner listens until you have finished.
- When you have finished, you have the option to ask, “Did I leave anything out?” or “Is there something I forgot to mention?”
- Your partner may add something, or multiple things, to your list for which he or she wants to be appreciated.
- You agree with your partner, saying something like “Yes, I did appreciate that too.”
- Your partner says, “Thank you,” when you have completed your list of appreciative comments.
- Now it is time to reverse roles. Your partner becomes the speaker whose appreciative comments are directed to you, the new listener. The process I’ve just outlined is repeated with the new speaker and listener.
When you each tell the other what pleases you, this encourages you and your spouse to do these things more often. For example, let’s suppose that when you arrive home, you want to hear “Hello” and maybe receive a hug and kiss. Usually you feel ignored, but about once a week you get the kind of greeting you value. If you say how happy you feel when this happens, it is likely to occur more often and you will both be glad about this.
Expressing gratitude builds intimacy, which promotes more appreciation. The more you focus on your partner’s positive attributes and behaviors, the more often you will continue to notice them.
Saying what you appreciate breeds happiness and optimism. Noticing fine traits and behaviors in your partner produces a ripple effect, because you will start recognizing more often the positive aspects of other people and of what is going on in your life.
Tips For Expressing Appreciation
Here are some recommendations for how to conduct the Appreciation part of your marriage meeting in order to establish a warm climate for reconnecting every week.
- Plan ahead. Keep track of things your partner does during the week for which you feel grateful; list them in your journal, on your smartphone, or elsewhere. Or you can complete the Appreciation Exercise (at the end of this chapter) before your weekly meeting.
- Let the less verbal partner speak first. This helps level the playing field for your marriage meeting so that the two of you will share ownership of it.
- Use I-statements. Take responsibility for your feelings, thoughts, and desires by starting your sentences with “I appreciate...,” or “I liked it when you...” I-statements foster emotional closeness.
- Use effective body language. Be aware of your facial expression, posture, and tone of voice. Our nonverbal communications send stronger messages than the words we speak. Smile when you give and receive compliments, make eye contact, and relax. Your tone of voice should be optimistic.
- Take nothing for granted. You can say, “I really appreciate your stopping at the store yesterday to pick up the lettuce I asked you to get.” Express gratitude for your spouse’s financial contributions to the family. Everyone likes to feel physically attractive. Say, “I liked how handsome (or beautiful) you looked when you dressed up for the party last Saturday.”
- Compliment positive character traits. In addition to expressing appreciation for specific behaviors, compliment your spouse for good personal qualities. Doing so produces a double dose of positive reinforcement. For example, “I appreciate your empathy in listening to me vent last night about my problem with a coworker. I value your support.”
- Ask yourself, “What else?” Does he read a bedtime story to the children every night? Did you like her attentiveness at the party when she caught your eye from across the room and smiled? Did you appreciate his consideration in calling last night to say he would be home late?
- Remember to listen silently. While you are on the receiving end of appreciative comments, do not say a word until your partner has finished.
- Be ready to add your two cents. When your partner asks, “Have I left anything out?” you can say, “Do you appreciate the picnic lunch I packed for our outing to the lake last Sunday?” Your partner is likely to say, “Yes, I appreciate that too.”
- Stick with appreciation. Do not even hint at disappointments or hurt feelings.
- Avoid disguised you-statements. These messages start with I but are actually accusations. “I appreciate that you finally remembered to take out the garbage on Wednesday night” is a disguised you-statement.
- Be specific. When and where did the appreciated behavior occur? What character trait did your partner show in the process?
After one false start, Janine and Fred quickly learned to be specific in expressing appreciation. When during their first try at a marriage meeting Janine told Fred, “I appreciate your thoughtfulness,” his facial expression stayed bland. After I encouraged Janine to be more specific, she said, “I loved it when you surprised me with the gorgeous long-stemmed red roses on Friday, and I also appreciated your thoughtfulness in putting them in the vase.” Fred brightened and said, “I don’t know why it works to be specific, but it really does.”
When it was his turn to compliment Janine, he said, “I appreciated your consideration in bringing me tea Wednesday evening when my throat was sore.” Janine lit up like a candle.
Occasionally, appreciation that lacks specificity is fine, as another couple learned. Marge said that during their first marriage meeting, “Steve told me, ‘You hold it all together. You make it all happen.’ It made me feel wonderful, even though it was global. I knew what he meant, that he appreciated everything I do as a wife, homemaker, and mother of our three children.”
Strive For Progress, Not Perfection; Appreciate Each Other’s Efforts
Can you recall the last time you complimented your spouse? What if compliments aren’t flowing in your relationship? If that’s true, expressing appreciation during your marriage meetings may feel awkward at first. Accept the feeling and do it anyway! Be patient and expect progress.
Emma had to learn this lesson. She complained that during their first marriage meeting the appreciative comments of her husband, Stuart, had been global. I recommended to Emma that she give her husband more leeway as he experiments with new ways of communicating, and that she thank Stuart for his efforts.
When it’s Emma’s turn to give appreciation, she can show Stuart the kind of detailed appreciative comments she would like to hear from him by making sure to be specific in her compliments to him.
What Holds Us Back From Expressing Appreciation?
Some people have trouble giving and receiving compliments. A few reasons for this:
Issues of self-worth. People who lack self-esteem find it difficult to accept appreciation. They don’t believe they deserve it. They may withhold the giving of compliments out of fear that if their partner’s self-image improves, he or she will leave the relationship.
Cultural considerations. People raised in cultures where accepting a compliment is viewed as boasting may feel uncomfortable when praised. Compliment such a person’s haircut, and you can expect to hear about what’s wrong with it.
Childhood influences. People whose parents did not compliment them while they were growing up may find it difficult to express and receive appreciative comments.
Difficulty allowing oneself to be vulnerable. Some people were raised in an environment where self-disclosure was risky. They may have been put down or punished for expressing their true feelings.
How Do You Feel When Someone Gives You a Compliment?
When complimented, do you feel happy? Proud? Uncomfortable? Embarrassed? Thrilled? Do you like hearing it? If you find it hard to give and receive compliments, ask yourself why. Becoming aware of what might be getting in your way is the first step toward increasing your comfort with appreciation.
Can’t Think of Anything to Appreciate?
Completing the Appreciation Exercise can help you come up with ideas before your meeting. But if you choose not to plan ahead, are miffed at your partner, or for some other reason are having difficulty expressing appreciation, find something positive to say anyway.
For example, you might start with “I appreciate that you are here meeting with me; it shows that you care about our relationship.” Or “I like how you look in that shirt; the color brings out the blue in your eyes.” Once you get started, you are likely to soon feel better about your spouse and come up with heartfelt compliments.
If you are feeling tempted to criticize your partner during the Appreciation part of your marriage meeting, exercise self-control and be patient. You can initiate a constructive discussion about a complaint during the fourth part of your marriage meeting, Problems and Challenges. Now is the time to reap the benefits of pure, undiluted, 100 percent appreciation.
Dos and Don’ts for Expressing Appreciation
- Do use I-statements.
- Do use effective body language.
- Do express appreciation for your partner’s positive character traits.
- Do listen silently while receiving compliments, and thank your partner at the end.
- Do be specific.
- Don’t omit the obvious.
- Don’t interrupt during your partner’s turn to express appreciation.
- Don’t criticize. Every comment you make should be appreciative.
- Don’t fall into the trap of thinking there is nothing to appreciate.
List at least five specific things your partner did during the past week that you appreciate. Identify which positive character trait (such as demonstrating helpfulness, taking responsibility, showing thoughtfulness, and so on) your partner displayed when doing the behaviors you liked. For example:
- “I appreciate your kindness in listening when I griped about my job on Tuesday.”
- “I like your consideration in turning off your phone during dinner every night this week.”
- “I appreciate your thoughtfulness in putting gas in my car yesterday.”
- “I appreciate your tender lovemaking Saturday night.”
Now it’s your turn. Begin sentences in your journal or on a separate sheet of paper as shown in the following list. Complete each sentence in a way that expresses your appreciation of your spouse.
- I appreciate...
- I appreciate...
- I like(d)...
- I appreciate...
- I appreciate...
©2014 by Marcia Naomi Berger. All Rights Reserved.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher,
New World Library, Novato, CA 94949. newworldlibrary.com.
Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love: 45 Minutes a Week to the Relationship You've Always Wanted
by Marcia Naomi Berger.
About the Author
Marcia Naomi Berger, MSW, LCSW, is the author of Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love. She coaches, consults, and speaks nationally, and has served on the clinical faculty of the University of California School of Medicine. Soon after marrying, she and her husband David began holding weekly marriage meetings. Nearly twenty-six years later, they continue to hold them. She says,"I treasure our time to reconnect every week. We express appreciation, coordinate chores, plan dates, and talk about any concern. Our meetings provide closure, which means no grudges." Visit her online at http://www.marriagemeetings.com.
Watch a video with the author: Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love
Read the author's answers to common questions about Marriage Meetings.