A young couple sits across from me on the therapy couch. They are here for premarital counseling. They hold hands, they smile at each other. I say: “So you want to grow old together. What does that mean to you?” One of them responds: “I imagine sitting on a bench, holding hands and watching a sunset together.” The other gets a big grin on their face and nods. The couple imagines a peaceful image of a life spent together and arriving on the other side in harmony and togetherness.
What young couples often don’t realize is that the day they say “I do”, they commit to growing together. They agree that moving forward they will be like two intertwined trees, as opposed to two trees growing side by side. It requires intentionality to learn about each other and willingness to be influenced by the other. What helps a couple grow together, from the altar to the bench without them falling apart, out of love, disinterested, or even despising one another? One of the main ingredients to a “happily ever after” is simply this: gratefulness.
Grateful for Growth
The longer a couple is married, the more likely they will come across minor and major differences. Whether it is their interests, their values, their love languages, the way the dishes are done, how a toothpaste is squeezed, how children are raised, the list can go on but you get the point. These differences can easily turn into frustration and conflict. However, they can also be an opportunity for growth. See, just because something is different, doesn’t make it wrong. Perhaps there is a chance to be influenced, to learn, to create something new. Let’s look at a few areas you may differ but can grow together through appreciation.
What are you passionate about? What do you like to talk about? These are likely the things you are interested in and they may or may not be the same for your partner. One of the ways you can show the other person that you love them is by spending time listening and talking about things they are interested in. Going back to the idea of gratefulness, you may actually appreciate that they broaden your range of knowledge in subjects you didn’t know as much about before getting married. What subjects have you grown in as a result of getting married? In what ways have you positively changed by engaging in each other’s interests?
What about values? Values are anything you spend time and money on and that can yet again differ when two people come together. Differing in values doesn’t mean that you do not belong together or that the other person is wrong in what they value. It just means that you are different and you have the opportunity to create something new together that has both your and their influence.
Growing Communication of Love
Love languages are another area you can grow together. You may have heard of “The 5 Love Languages” written by Gary Chapman. These entail physical touch, quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service and gift giving. You may appreciate one form of love more than the other and you may also like to show your love one way more than the other. The key is to be aware of the bids for connection that come from your partner when they are trying to show you that they care even if it’s not the way you wanted them to show you.
Appreciation in Action
We looked at a few areas you may differ as a couple and how this can be an opportunity to grow together by appreciating those differences. The following are three practical ways you can grow a culture of appreciation and gratitude on a daily basis.
Say “Thank you”
Begin by saying “thank you”. Sometimes couples stop saying thank for the little things. They stop showing appreciation and begin to take things for granted. If that’s the case, simply introduce “thank you” again in your vocabulary. It can make a big difference.
Focus on the Positive
Next, instead of focusing on the negative, shift perspective to what you like about your partner. For example, instead of ruminating about the things your partner forgot to do, focus on something they did to show they care for you. Instead of thinking about the ways in which they differ from you, tune in on their positive personality traits. Create a list of all the things you appreciate about them. Then spend 10 days writing two additional things on the list. These don’t have to be something new each day but it brings to your awareness what is going well about the relationship.
Write it Down
Finally, after you are have practiced working towards appreciation for each other in your own heart, why not share that with your partner? Spend 10 days writing them a little note of appreciation to express what you love about them. For example: “I admire how you work hard to provide for your family.”, “I appreciate how much thought and effort you put into meal planning and shopping. Thank you.”
By showing each other how grateful you are for them and how they are wired will set the foundation of a life that is in fact filled with harmony and togetherness in the end.
Tamara Patterson is a licensed counselor, speaker, and writer. She and her husband Daniel are the founders of New Tree Center, where individuals and couples learn to let go of their past and "plant" new, healthy habits. Tamara is passionate about helping others live well so that they can love and lead the ones they care about well. Tamara and Daniel live with their three little kids in the suburbs of Chicago. They enjoy fitness, Mediterranean food, and taking care of their homestead. You can learn more at newtreecenter.com or you can follow on Instagram @NewTreeCenter.