We’ve been taught by our parents that it’s important to be polite. We’ve been told that saying “please” and “thank you” are necessary to show respect and appreciation. But how far should we take that? Is it important to extend such politeness to our intimate partner? Or is there an assumption of trust and intimacy that precludes the need for such displays of politeness?
We would probably all agree that building trust in any relationship — especially intimate ones — require a high degree of respect, kindness, and sensitivity. Relationships cascade toward disconnection when we take each other for granted or become numb to how we affect each other. But to what extent is it necessary to offer a polite “thank you” whenever our partner does something kind for us? Is it incumbent upon us to thank our partner every time they pass the salt or hold a door open for us?
There’s much complexity to this issue. A sloppy, cavalier attitude would be: “You know I appreciate you, so why do I need to thank you?” In my experience as a couples therapist, people feel more connected when there’s a steady flow of gratitude toward each other. Relationships need nurturing to thrive.
However, such words of gratitude are effective to the degree that they are natural, spontaneous, and heartfelt. If saying “please” and “thank you” becomes an obligation or rote behavior, it defeats the purpose of using these words, which is to maintain an atmosphere of good will and respect, while nurturing connection and love. Intimacy doesn’t flourish when we feel an obligation or pressure to be polite.
People’s needs vary. Some individuals feel more connected when there’s a steady dose of “please” and “thank you” in their everyday conversation. For others, such displays of politeness may be experienced as an unnecessary or even annoying convention. For them, words are cheap — or at least not as helpful as actions that demonstrate love. For them, respect and kindness are received more meaningfully when they’re non-verbally embodied in one’s demeanor, tone of voice, and sensitivity to their feelings and needs.
Offering Verbal Appreciation
If we’re paying attention, there are many things we can express appreciation for. When it feels “right” and natural, we can offer a “thank you,” or “I appreciate that” when we genuinely feel gratitude for words or actions that touch us in some way. Here are some examples of what our partner might do for us that we can express gratitude for:
- Calls us at work to ask how we’re doing when they know we’re having a hard time about something.
- Braves the rain to take out the garbage.
- Makes a great meal for us.
- Tells us something they appreciate about us.
- Listens attentively to something we want to share.
- Stretches in some way to please us, such as watching a movie they weren’t crazy about or visiting our family.
Hearing such appreciation nurtures trust and connection. It tells us that our partner is noticing what we’re doing for them — or for us — rather than taking us for granted.
Verbal appreciation helps nurture connection, but don’t neglect non-verbal displays of appreciation. Seeing a smile on our partner’s face may move us more than conventional words of thanks. A knowing glance or smile may convey more than any words can.
As our partner dishes out a delicious casserole, we might flash a smile or make sounds of pleasure that demonstrates delight and gratitude. Or a heartfelt comment with an inflection that conveys praise and appreciation, such as “Wow! you’re amazing” might thrill our partner more than a tame “thank you” that lacks feeling.
As an experiment, notice when you feel appreciation for something your partner or friend does for you. Can you find some words to convey that? Additionally, are there non-verbal ways you can show gratitude, such as through your tone of voice, facial expression, or eye contact?
Especially during difficult times, as we’re facing right now with the coronavirus, it’s important to let our partner and friends know that we appreciate them and don’t take them for granted.
If you’re not accustomed to heartfelt expressions of gratitude, you might find it uncomfortable at first. Gradually, you may find it to be very satisfying.
Expressing appreciation tends to boomerang back to you. It’s not always easy, but giving what you’d like to receive is wise path toward getting more of what you want.
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