Repeated research studies suggest that gratitude can lead us to healthier lives and actually help 'rewire' our brains for greater happiness. But struggling couples may not be feeling very grateful. Here are some tips about how to find gratitude in your own life and what it can do for your relationship.
Gratitude comes in many flavors - seeking and appreciating things that provide spiritual pleasure, expressing gratitude for things others do, and giving voice to things that give you joy, to name a few. Since more and more research suggests that gratitude is important for good mental health, I often suggest to partners, particularly disgruntled non-ADHD partners, that they start to actively look for things in their lives to appreciate. One of the most common questions I get when I include in that the idea that partners show appreciation for the small things their ADHD partner does is "why should I say 'thank you' when my partner should be doing that, anyway?" Further, non-ADHD partners often fear that if they say "thanks" or "that was great" for an everyday task, their ADHD partner will stop trying so hard - reverting to old, less positive, habits. Sadly, by giving in to these types of fears non-ADHD partners contribute to the demotivation of their partner, thus increasing the chance that what they fear (the partner will revert) will happen. I cannot count the number of times an ADHD partner has said to me "I just am never good enough for my partner." Part of the reason they say that? Because criticism, rather than appreciation, is the most common comment they hear about what they do.
I urge partners to seek out ways to feel and express gratitude - if done well, it can be genuinely helpful to the person who is grateful, and improve their relationship. There are a number of reasons for this:
- it's hard work changing habits - when either partner succeeds it's worth noting it (and this helps you avoid the situation in which the partner makes several positive changes, but you only notice the things that didn't change - and this happens all the time!)
- showing real gratitude makes you a better person, and an easier person to live with - it lightens up your relationship
- it will inspire your partner - carrots work far better than sticks in ADHD-impacted relationships
- forgetting your partner for a moment, seeking genuine gratitude will make you happier
Don't express false gratitude. And don't use gratitude to 'hide' or avoid deep problems that need resolution. Being grateful that your partner did not hit you today, for example, would miss the point - you are being abused and things need to change right away! A recent article in Experience Life Magazine provides a lot more ideas about how to think about gratitude in your life, and I recommend reading it if you are interested in this topic.