Couples come to therapy for a number of reasons: communication issues, inequity in the relationship, financial issues, parenting style differences, among many others. What I have discovered, and what many other therapists recognize, is that problems with the laundry are rarely about the laundry, or the dishes, or the groceries. Sometimes, “you did the laundry wrong” is code for something much deeper. Often it is a sign that points towards an unmet need in the relationship. As a therapist, I often encourage the couples with whom I work to cultivate the skill of “generous reinterpretation.” That is, hearing what the partner might be saying beyond and beneath the words that just came out of their mouth.
Until partners learn to communicate exactly what they need or exactly how they feel to one another explicitly, it is helpful to note that a criticism about inadequately folded laundry in many instances might be about something entirely different.
Using the two words “thank you” can elevate the closeness of couples
Similarly, work with couples includes helping partners cultivate moments of “pause” before they respond, patience, identifying their communication patterns and practising new ones, entering into one another’s emotional experiences (a.k.a. empathy), as well as respecting their partner choices even and when it is hard to understand. Most importantly, though, is adopting and using the two words (and all that is included in their meaning) that can elevate the bond, intimacy, and closeness of couples, that is, “thank you.”
Gratitude has been shown to improve psychological health, physical health, reduce aggression, and increase mental strength. I would argue that the use of “thank you” (and meaning it) on a regular, consistent basis has the capacity to enhance intimacy significantly.
5 reasons why saying thank you increases intimacy
1. Saying “thank you” shifts our perspectives
Rather than focusing on what we perceive as our partners’ negative or less-than-perfect qualities, a thankful posture, along with the expression of gratitude through the use of the words “thank you,” shifts our perspective to the positive, attractive qualities our partners possess. Perhaps your partner’s inability to fold the laundry properly can also be seen as your partner’s willingness to learn and participate in a task that has not been practised for years. “Thank you,” then, can be a means of acknowledging our partners’ gifts, efforts, and desires. Rather than fixating on what is not being done right, a simple “thank you for all you do to make our home comfortable” can go a long way.
2. Saying “thank you” can help our partners heal
Many people become trapped in cycles of shame when criticized. As a way of emphasizing our partners’ value, worthiness, and adequacy, saying “thank you” mirrors the true, loveable nature of our partners. In other words, we have the capacity to reflect what our partners can often miss about themselves. A comment like, “thank you for sharing your life with me. I feel like the luckiest person alive to have you along on this journey,” can be invaluable. Even and especially in the seemingly smallest moments of gratitude can we find healing. In fact, it is the frequent, consistent gestures that make the biggest difference.
3. Saying “thank you” can make us better communicators
Saying “thank you” pushes us to examine what it is that we are truly thankful for, and subsequently, how we communicate that to our partners. For example, thanking your partner for going grocery shopping, although seemingly trivial, can also reveal gratitude for many other things beneath and beyond the grocery shopping. In other words, when we are able to reflect on the meaning of our partners’ efforts, we can also see our partners’ desire to invest in the development of a shared relationship. The groceries, as with the laundry, is rarely about the groceries. In this case, the groceries have the capacity to reflect a more meaningful connection and mutual desire to serve one another. When we are able to truly see and appreciate our partners’ efforts, especially when we are consciously and thoughtfully looking, we become better at communicating, and thus, connecting.
4. Saying “thank you” reinforces new patterns
Breaking old communication patterns can be challenging for many couples. So can practising new ones. When one partner attempts to change and succeeds, hearing the words, “thank you” can be a powerful motivator for continued change. The next time your partner listens to your experience rather than reacts, try, “thank you for listening. I felt heard and understood, and I’m grateful to be able to share my feelings with you.” This “thank you” can be a powerful motivator for your partner to continue in the new pattern. More importantly, both of you can see the strong benefits of the communication shift, which can reinforce trust that a new pattern can be effective and draw you closer.
Also watch: How to Find Happiness in Your Marriage
5. Saying “thank you” empowers us
Cultivating an attitude of gratitude, as the cliché goes, can be empowering. As you foster the ability to see the gifts that you have at your disposal, particularly in your partnership, it becomes easier to see what is possible. Rather than a naive Pollyanna approach, gratitude, and subsequently, saying “thank you” for what you see are the gifts in your life. These can empower you and your partner to reach for more connection, intimacy, and closeness, within and outside of the relationship. While strangers and friends alike utter the words “thank you” frequently, the intentional, mindful expression of gratitude within the two words elevates their significance. In other words, saying “thank you” helps us – not just our partners – to find joy in what we have and in the journey, rather than where we might feel stuck and hopeless.
When you begin to take your partner for granted, become somewhat complacent in the relationship, or find that you have lost a sense of gratitude for your partnership, begin by taking a grateful posture. Saying “thank you” can be a powerful way of seeing your partner differently, and consequently, the laundry.
If you feel disconnected or frustrated about the state of your marriage but want to avoid separation and/or divorce, the marriage.com course meant for married couples is an excellent resource to help you overcome the most challenging aspects of being married.
Dr Widian Nicola is a relationship expert and Licensed Clinical Social Worker with nearly 18 years of clinical social work experience. She has worked along the continuum of care – from inpatient treatment to outpatient counseling with adolescents and adults. In addition to directing Nicola Counseling Services, LLC, Dr Nicola is an Assistant Professor of Graduate Social Work at Seton Hall University, and is Host/Producer of the podcast show, Lived Experience Project. For the past fifteen years, Dr Nicola has also been a retreat facilitator and conference presenter. Her published and media contributions have appeared on national platforms. She was also awarded the Larry DePaul Justice Education Award by the Romero Center in Camden, NJ in 2014. Dr Nicola is the founder and event director of the annual Savor and Serve fundraiser and is co-leader of the Potluck Society Steering Committee. Dr Nicola is also a clinical supervisor for those working towards clinical licensure and in her own practice, specializes in working with emerging adults and couples. She received her Doctorate in Social Work from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey and Masters in Social Work from Eastern Washington University.
(Widian Nicola is also listed in Best Marriage Therapists in Princeton)