The Art of Appreciation

In the everyday hubbub of parenting, working, play dates and house-holding, it’s easy to overlook one of our most precious resources…our partner. Ironically, the person we rely upon the most can also be the one we most fail to appreciate (next to ourselves). And it’s this lack of appreciation – our ability to lovingly acknowledge others and ourselves through verbal and other means – that undermines long-term relationships the most.

Leading Parenting and Relationship Researcher John Gottman agrees. He has spent years and countless hours observing and detailing the interactions of couples. So keen are his skills in the nuances of intimate relationships, it’s said he can observe a couple on video and, in less than an hour, predict their chances of survival with 93% accuracy.

One of Gottman’s important findings shows that how a couple fights, or even how often, doesn’t determine longevity. In other words, it doesn’t matter whether their fighting style is loud and dramatic or withdrawn and simmering. What matters most is how partners treat each other BETWEEN conflicts. Specifically, his research asserts that in healthy, thriving relationships there is a 5-to-1 ratio between positive and negative feelings toward each other.

Photo: Firefly Mobile Studios http://www.firefly2u.com

 

When I share this with couples, I ask them to imagine this ratio like a bank account; I call it their Appreciation Trust Fund (ATF). If a couple is not depositing regularly into their ATF, and if they keep “nickel and diming” each other with constant negative thoughts and emotions, they may find their ATF sorely depleted, especially when it comes time for a major transaction. Much like the economy, we can’t expect to abuse our credit line with each other and expect our relationship to keep thriving. Eventually our relationship goes bankrupt!

When teaching couples The Art of Appreciation, I break down this lost art into its essential ingredients: Giving, Receiving and Asking. Many people consider themselves capable Givers, yet not very good Receivers, while others feel inept in both departments. Ironically, the biggest obstacle in mastering appreciation boils down to this: When we don’t appreciate ourselves, it is difficult to appreciate another. “Try on” being both Giver and Receiver and see how comfortable each feels.

On Giving

The more present and specific a Giver is, the more precious the gift they give. The art of delivering an appreciation comes in three varieties:

  • The Quick Toss: A brief, gracious “thank you” peppered throughout your day, given spontaneously and (hopefully) often. (e.g. “Thanks for making dinner!”)
  • The Thoughtful Pause: This requires the Giver to take a moment and reflect on what or why they appreciate, and be specific about it. (e.g. “What a wonderful dinner – the creamy spiciness of the potatoes were especially tasty. Thank you for cooking!”)
  • The Formal Bouquet: This practice invites both the Giver and the Receiver to be present for the appreciation. The combined presence of two evokes a more heartfelt exchange. Each person takes a full, easy breath before speaking. It goes something like this:Giver: I have an appreciation for you, are you willing to receive it?
    Receiver: Yes, I am.
    Giver: I appreciate the subtle flavors and textures of your cooking, how easy you make it all seem and how you do it day after day. Your creativity in the kitchen is such a gift to our family. I feel so loved when I eat your food – thank you.
    Receiver: Thanks for noticing.

On Receiving

It’s very important that the Receiver be able to accept an appreciation, otherwise the bouquet is wasted. Most of us have had the experience of thanking someone, only to have it deflected or denied. Not very satisfying, is it? If need be, the Receiver can ask to receive the appreciation later.

I encourage couples to play with all three varieties of appreciation – the toss, the pause and the bouquet – daily. Although the Formal Bouquet can make some people squirm at first, most couples grow to appreciate these moments of deep connection when their hearts open to each other.

Modeling appreciation affects the whole family. Expand your appreciation practice to include the children. “Playing the Appreciation Game,” as one couple calls it, adds richness to activities, such as family dinners, as everyone takes time to share gratitude for their day and each other.

Part II: How to ASK for more of what you want – coming in the August issue!

Joy Hosey
About Joy Hosey

Joy Hosey is a Relationship Guide and Coach living in Ashland, OR. You can find out more about her and her work at JoyHosey.com

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  1. […] In Part I of this article (June 2011), we focused on the importance of daily appreciation between couples and how to master the art of verbal appreciation, expanding it to include the entire family. Simple to more formal forms of “Thank you” are essential, yet they are just one aspect of acknowledging each other. […]

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