Appreciation can be such an elusive thing. On one hand, we all know what the word means. In the context of a relationship, it refers to experiencing and showing gratitude for someone else, perhaps for something specific they do. Perhaps for something as global as being wonderful.
The most insidious road to losing that sense of appreciation is taking someone for granted. Let’s say that your partner went out of their way to do something nice for you. Something you really love and, yes, appreciate. Now what if you became so accustomed to that nice something that you came to take it for granted? It’s easy to lose that sense of gratitude and appreciation for someone doing something that they seemingly do all the time. How special is it when it happens every day?
Well, the answer to that question is a personal choice we all make, whether we notice or not. After all, lots of things happen every day that make our lives better. The Earth orbited around the sun in just the right way that sunrise came when expected. You woke up and found that you were yet again alive and at least relatively healthy. You took a deep breath and noticed that yet again, you could breathe. We realize that there will be mild exceptions to this. I hear an objection from someone in the back who must cart around an oxygen tank. “I don’t wake up able to breathe”, he says. Yet, though he requires assistance from that oxygen tank, he is breathing. I drove past a cemetery the other day, and it was filled with people who were much less capable of breath than he. So let’s not nitpick! We’ll bet that there are a dozen great things in your life that happen every single day without fail. Just as your partner may do the same nice thing for you every day.
The next step is deciding what all that means. If it’s just something to take for granted, because it will always be there, you allow yourself to be robbed in two ways. First, your lack of appreciation is something others can see clearly in you. Who is going to continue doing nice things for you if you never show appreciation? Meaning that at some point, the thing you take for granted may very well disappear. Now I hear the refrain of “Don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.” Very true – we often don’t.
But there’s that second thing being stolen from you when you take things for granted. A huge component of a happy and prosperous life is feeling, deeply and personally, appreciation, gratitude for all the wonderful things in your life. That incredible feeling of fulfillment, joy, satisfaction, of overflowing with happiness, can vanish as well. It can be taken from you and all you have to do to invite it is to take that gift, that gesture, that nice thing someone does for you for granted.
If you instead take a moment and, just choosing one of the things in your life for which you are grateful, you have taken charge of this process, and you can amplify your emotion, making your joy and fulfillment rise like boiling water in a kettle. If you keep it up, your life will be overflowing with excitement and happiness. There’s also been a good amount written already about how gratitude is the doorway to achieve more.
Now back to what your partner feels in all this. Consider two distinct scenarios in which your partner has yet again done something nice for you. Let’s assume that he or she is not the sort of person who does such things solely for the kudos and the thanks. Sure, that’s nice, and most of us like to hear those things. But let’s assume that’s not the only reason. Mainly because it probably isn’t the only reason!
Maybe the first time the good deed goes unnoticed, they brush it off. Maybe the second or third, the same, they just let it roll of their back, and keep putting the energy into their kindness. But think about it, would you continue to expend effort, giving something for which you receive no acknowledgement, no thank you, no gratitude, no sense of having done something good? For various reasons, primarily that you’re human, let’s guess that you won’t. Like most people, you will stop doing something for which you’re not being reinforced on at least some level. It even works with animals.
Here’s the tough part – it also works on your partner. If you fail to acknowledge and express true gratitude, you can expect that behavior to eventually stop. It might take a while, or it might happen immediately. But sooner or later, as would any of us, your partner will stop doing that nice thing for you. Behaviorists call this extinction.
Working with couples, some of the interesting things we’ve heard come both sides of that discussion. In one situation, the young man was a building contractor and the young lady a realtor. She developed the habit of putting a Twinkie in her husband’s lunch box every morning. She knew that, despite his being very macho and “manly” in his attitude, he had a tremendous sweet tooth. He’d once told her how he’d loved Twinkies since he was a kid. With a desire to please him, she began adding a Twinkie every day. He at first was delighted, and while he admitted to wanting to thank her and kiss her for it, he repressed the urge. It just wasn’t “manly” to act that way.
Nonetheless, he came to expect that Twinkie, and he found himself looking forward to lunch specifically because of it. Though he was taking it for granted, it didn’t seem like such a bad thing to him. After all, she must know that he appreciates, it, right?
Meanwhile, she had been giddy, knowing that she had tickled a fancy that only she knew about. She delighted in packing his lunch box every morning, fully aware of how happy it would likely make him. She imagined how he would light up and beam, thanking her profusely, covering her with kisses, insisting that he make her dinner, and dozens of other possible gestures of gratitude she was soon to enjoy. So far, he had been reserved, but sooner or later, that grateful, excited little boy she knew was there would jump out and thank her. He just had do! Right? (Are you beginning to spot the incorrect assumptions, inherent?)
After awhile, she began to wonder about it. He never said anything, never thanked her, never mentioned the Twinkie. She began to lose all the joy she’d gotten from packing it, thinking that perhaps she had misunderstood. Maybe his “man of few words” approach to communication simply prevented him from stating what was, to her, becoming increasingly obvious – he had outgrown the Twinkies and probably gave them to someone else or even threw them away. The little boy had grown up, and just didn’t perhaps have the heart to tell her.
She confided that this truly hurt her feelings. After all, she’d expressed this gesture out of love for him, as a woman who could appreciate the little boy in him that loved sweets. For him to ignore her gesture wasn’t, obviously, just a rejection of the “creme”-filled golden sponge cake with the 500 year shelf life. She swore that once she saw an expiration date message stamped on the box which read, “Best if used before the Year 3000”. I chided her that she was imagining things – everyone knew that those things actually never expire. I was quite sure that those Twinkies would be just as fresh as they ever were, all the way through to the mid-4000’s.
(Disclaimer: I like Twinkies, despite not indulging in the. But there’s no denying that if you found a time machine, and you managed to go forward in time thousands of years after humanity dies off, you would still find Twinkies in their plastic packaging, their cardboard boxes long ago having rotted away. But once you opened the plastic, you’d find that the cakes were still edible! Or at least, as edible as they ever had been.)
But back to her feelings. His lack of appreciation told her that, whether he liked Twinkies anymore or not, he didn’t appreciate her gesture. The next step many of us take in our minds is the one she took next. She concluded that he didn’t actually appreciate her.
So while she stopped packing Twinkies, with more than a bit of repressed resentment, she simultaneously felt the hurt within her growing.
This, by the way, is the part where most men become confused. All this is happening within her, and face it, with us explaining the process, kind of a play-by-play commentary, it makes sense, doesn’t it? Yet to a lot of men, taking the gesture for granted just doesn’t seem like a big deal. At least in the moment. And it’s that moment that counts.
So the “amazing, disappearing ‘good thing'” doesn’t just refer to gifts and treats like Twinkies. In reality, it refers to our relationship.
At the same time, to a lot of women, the lack of appreciation for her effort seems like not just a big deal, but a monumental one. After all, in the above example, she wasn’t just being rejected for her gesture. She herself was being rejected, taken for granted.
There are volumes we could explore about how to show appreciation to your partner. But let’s begin with this – look at any effort that person makes that is in any way out of the ordinary. Now narrow that list down by focusing in on the things that don’t directly benefit themselves. Maybe it’s a Twinkie in your lunch box. Maybe it’s taking the trash out without being asked. Maybe it’s being quiet when you take a nap, or rubbing your feet after a stressful day. Maybe it’s suggesting a “spa day” after a tough week. Whatever the gesture, recognize within it what it does for you. If they care about you, that is most likely a gesture they intend for you, to make your life better, to ease your stress, to make you smile, to make you feel loved. Assume positive intentions. This is your partner we’re talking about.
The irony is that the gesture might be breathtakingly impactful to you. Or it might be a subtle nicety. But it’s for you, and someone, out of their caring for you, is going to the effort to do it for you. How does it feel? Do you like it? Would you like it to continue?
If yes, use all your senses to say thank you until you find the right combination for your partner. Some of us want to hear “Thank you, that made me feel great!” Some of us want to be pulled close and kissed with gratitude. Some of us just want the grateful embrace, or to see a big smile as we are thanked. There is no universally wrong answer, and once you begin learning about NLP, you start to notice that there are some ways that will work better with your partner than others. There are some ways that, while not better overall, are indeed very much better for that person. And since the two of you have so much wrapped up in one another, what’s very much better for your partner, if you’re smart, will become very important to you.
Feel that gratitude. Show that gratitude. Experience that gratitude together. Connect with one another in a place of Gratitude. Let it fill your spirit and bless your relationship. Let it weave a sumptuous bond between you and your partner, holding you together even as the stresses of life and the people around you strive to pull you in separate directions.
Gratitude is one of the few gifts we can give simultaneously to one another and to ourselves. Give prodigiously!