fondness and admiration system

The Unexpected Power of a Thank You

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When was the last time you said thank you?  Was it to the cashier at the grocery store out of politeness?  Was it to your spouse for helping you carry in the groceries?  Was it to a friend who was there for you when you had a hard day?

What about the last time you received a “thank you” from someone else?  Or when did you receive praise?  For most of us, this is the more difficult question: whether due to disqualifying the positive events of our lives or genuinely not receiving praise, it can be difficult to identify positive words that have been spoken about you.

How about this: when was the last time you asked for praise or affirmation?  When did you express what you needed to someone close to you?  If you can think of an example, what did that feel like for you?  If not, what holds you back from asking?  Would you feel needy?  Like the praise was forced?

Listen to this short, three-minute TED talk from Dr. Laura Trice about the importance of genuine, authentic praise. 

How can you up your praise quotient in your own life?

Offer specific and genuine praise to those around you.

Saying a simple “thank you” is better than offering no praise at all.  But to take it a step further, think of one or two specific affirmations that you can offer another person or specific actions for which that you are thankful.  This type of praise helps others to know that you see them and their efforts, which, in turn, feels more genuine and authentic.

Offer praise rather than assuming the other person knows you’re grateful.

Dr. Trice shares a powerful example from her work with addicts.  She indicates that the core wound of many addicts comes from their parents neglecting to tell their child how proud they were of him or her.  Often parents talk about this pride with others, but did not directly express that pride to their child.

We can’t assume that our loved ones know how we feel about them if we don’t express it in words.  Take time to thank your spouse for something that you usually take for granted, or offer an “I love you” just because.  As Dr. Trice suggests, thank your children for completing their chores, even if it’s what’s expected of them.

Ask yourself: what praise do I need to hear?

If you’re feeling down or having a hard time feeling appreciated, think through what you need to hear that would help you feel more secure.  Do you want to be recognized for the contributions you offer to your workplace?  What about the parenting “wins” you’ve had lately?  Or how you put effort into finding the perfect gift for your spouse? Make a list of these areas, and then identify: where can you offer that praise to yourself?  Where would it be helpful to hear that praise from others?

Acknowledge the vulnerability it takes to ask for what you need.

When she gets down to the “why” of the difficulty related to asking for praise or thanks, Dr. Trice reveals that it is a vulnerable ask.  By requesting specific affirmations, we are indicating our weakness or a need.  It is difficult to admit this need, as we fear it could be used against us or withheld from us in the future.  Asking to be praised involves risk and trust.

You could neglect me, you could abuse it, or you could actually meet my need.
— Dr. Laura Trice

For some of us, having our needs met might be the most vulnerable experience we could have.  Perhaps we aren’t used to others meeting our needs, or we’re used to having to fight for ourselves.  It can be both healing and redemptive to ask for what you need and to receive it. 

Practice asking for the praise and affirmation you need to hear.

After you’ve listed out your needs, seek out the people you trust to ask for them to offer praise or appreciation for you.  Choose someone who is safe first and who you trust to be able to offer genuine praise.  Get creative with your ask and offer praise for them as well.  Create this as a regular practice in your life. 

I’m giving you critical data about me, I’m telling you where I’m insecure, I’m telling you where I need your help.
— Dr. Laura Trice
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Do you struggle to feel appreciated?  Are you feeling taken advantage of, used, or disappointed by the lack of praise in your relationships?  Are you struggling with negative thoughts about yourself?  At Restored Hope, I offer individual and couples counseling at my Ann Arbor and Novi offices in Michigan to help you understand your needs more fully and learn how to communicate with others about the praise you need.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or email me today to hear more about how I can help you.

I Love You AND I Like You: Cultivate Fondness and Admiration in Your Marriage

Eric and Kristen have never argued over the course of their marriage.  They don’t have any major complaints against each other, and they seem to get along just fine.  But neither of them are really satisfied.  They can’t put a finger on it, but it often feels like they’re just roommates, or living parallel lives.  They can’t remember the last time their spouse paid them a compliment or showed them affection.

Their neighbors Ashley and Ray, on the other hand, feel like every conversation they have ends in an argument, even if it starts on a neutral playing field.  Each of them feels disrespected and invalidated by the other, and they feel worn down by the constant criticism present in their relationship.

While these couples might seem like either end of an extreme, one thing they both lack is what John Gottman calls a “fondness and admiration system.”  Gottman speaks about the importance of fondness and admiration as a foundational building block of a couple’s friendship in the Sound Relationship House.  He came to this conclusion based on research he did noticing what he calls his “magic ratio”: for every 1 negative or critical comment made, 5 positive or affirming comments must be made to make up for it.

Practicing gratitude and appreciation in your marriage not only fights against this 1:5 ratio, it also is linked to higher quality marriages and a reduced chance of divorce, according to a University of Georgia study.  One reason for this correlation may be linked to Gottman’s claim that fondness and admiration is the antidote to contempt, the single greatest indicator of impending divorce.  Contempt is characterized by harsh criticism coming from a place of superiority, and includes such things as sarcasm, eye-rolling, and name-calling.  To avoid this pitfall, Gottman encourages building the fondness and admiration system by shifting from an attitude of searching for flaws in your partner, to instead embody an attitude of looking for the good in them.

Here are some ideas on how to give attention to this area of your marriage:

First, assess yourself.

If you connect with the stories of either couple above, take the assessment here to find out if you might need to grow in this area of fondness and admiration.  If you get a high score, then great!  Continue doing what you’re doing and maybe sprinkle in one or two of the following ideas.  If you get a low score, there is still hope!  Use the ideas below to give attention to these areas and turn your marriage around.

Make a list of character qualities about your partner you admire.

In Gottman’s book Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, he encourages couples who struggle to feel appreciated and respected by their partner to complete an exercise to grow their fondness and admiration system.  This exercise includes looking at a list of positive character traits, identifying which of those qualities you see in your partner, and sharing a specific story to illustrate that characteristic.  This exercise can be done as a one-time event, or it can be done daily as a check-in to increase this skill. 

Notice daily tasks you’ve taken for granted and express appreciation.

Early in your marriage, tasks like making a home-cooked meal for the family or shoveling the sidewalks on a cold and snowy day were likely met with praise and gratitude.  Over time, however, those simple tasks become so routine that they are often taken for granted.  This week, pay attention to an activity that your spouse does often to which you’ve become accustomed, and make a point to share gratitude with them for completing that task.

Share something that impresses you about your spouse.

We typically are attracted to our love interests in the early days of relationships because of some unique characteristic or strength they have that we admire.  Perhaps he runs marathons, or she is able to remember details and manage priorities well, or he has a knack for coming up with creative dates.   Take stock of some of these gifts and skills that impress you about your spouse, and compliment them about how you see that specific trait in them.

Prioritize a date night where you reminisce about your early relationship.

Especially once you have children together as a couple, time alone together becomes low on the priority list.  However, this is the time where it is most important to be building and fostering that relationship between the two of you.  Find a babysitter or call grandma to watch the kids for an evening and go out on a date night where you spend time reminiscing about the early days of your relationship.  Reminding yourselves about the past can help you reflect positively on present day experiences and the future of your relationship.

Do a “random act of kindness” for your spouse.

I’ve heard talk about random acts of kindness in the context of strangers – but what makes strangers any more deserving than the people we interact with on a daily basis?  Find a way to serve and love your spouse through one of these random acts of kindness.  Do you know she has a big project coming up at work?  Picking up dinner on the way home and putting the kids to bed early might ease her mind.  Is he feeling overwhelmed by maintenance projects he’s been meaning to do in the house and backyard?  Try asking him which of those projects you could do on your own, or volunteering to help on the weekend. 

Keep a marriage gratitude journal.

We’ve talked on this blog before about how gratitude journaling is a great self-care practice.  But what about taking that concept and extending it to your marriage?  There are plenty of different ways to do a marriage gratitude journal, but here’s one possibility: write down one thing each day you are grateful for about your spouse, and then share them with each other at the end of the week.  You can keep them in a separate journal or the same journal, but it can be helpful to keep them written down so you can look back on them later.

Which of these practices would you like to test out this week?

If your marriage is characterized by feelings of contempt from which you don’t feel you can escape, or if one of the anecdotes at the beginning of the post resonates with your story, we’d love to talk with you about some ways a therapist could help change the script in your marriage.  Restored Hope is an Ann Arbor and Novi based therapy office where we use Gottman Method Couples Therapy to foster healthy and thriving marriages that are safeguarded against divorce.  Give Restored Hope a call at 734.656.8191 or fill out the form here to hear about how we can help.