Self-Medicate by Practicing Gratitude



I can’t tell you how often it comes up in couple’s therapy that both people feel unappreciated by a partner they deem ungrateful.


Sometimes one partner isn’t pulling their weight, taking more than they’re giving—but more often it’s a simple matter of missing communication. Forgetting to express gratitude and appreciation for the things we do for each other within a relationship.


It’s natural from a survival standpoint to lock in on the negative and take for granted the positive. That’s how you stay alert to environmental threats. That’s part of why we’re so adaptable.


But as conscious beings, it’s on us to overcome that negative-facing nature through practice, tools, and self-awareness.



What happens when we forget gratitude


It’s all too easy to take our partner(s) for granted. Humans are resilient and adaptable—we can get used to anything, positive or negative. But when we don’t express our gratitude, our partners pick up on the silence and feel unappreciated. That can easily fracture a relationship beyond repair.


That’s why it’s so important to be intentional in your gratitude. To ritualize expressing it so gratitude becomes de rigeur. Because otherwise the de rigeur will slide toward negative feedback loops. Which can result in fight/flight communication situations and spiral into a vicious cycle of communication breakdown.



Make gratitude a habit


Like any habit, building a gratitude practice takes a few weeks of deliberate repetition before it really clicks into groove. There are a few ways to achieve that. All of them require some degree of commitment and intention. Even if you don’t buy into it at first, staying consistent with the practice will pay off down the line.


Look: you won’t always feel grateful—but your gratitude discipline can become a positive feedback loop. The more you practice expressing gratitude about your partner, the more you remember and notice things that you’re grateful for.


How to practice gratitude

  • Set daily phone reminders

  • Write a sticky note each morning/evening

  • Express gratitude as part of greeting your partner

  • Keep a gratitude journal


Remember: a gratitude mindset is 100% in the giving. It’s not an exchange. It’s not a transaction. You don’t expect something back. The return on your emotional investment is internal. Gratitude has its own benefits.



365 days of gratitude makes a great gift


Here’s the challenge, if you think you’re up to it.


Get a journal and start every morning (or finish each evening) by writing a brief 2-3 sentence expression of gratitude for something specific that day or in general. Or something you want to focus on that day. Or something you remember. It’s freeform—as long as it’s about giving gratitude.


If you miss a day—just catch up the next. Maybe add some kind of self-disciplinary measure like 10 pushups or cleaning the toilet, if that’s how you motivate yourself. You do you.


The point is: the more consistent you are, the easier it will be to think of things you appreciate. And the more open you’ll be to empathy in your communication. And it’s okay to repeat, by the way. As long as you aren’t redundant or lazy about it.


Gratitude journal prompts

  • Thank you for…

  • I appreciate how you…

  • I’m grateful that you…

  • Yesterday you…

  • I saw something you did that made me appreciate…

  • The way your [physical]...

  • Your support means so much when you...


Write neatly. Don’t forget you’ll be giving this to your partner after a set period of time—whether a year, a season, a month, or even a week if you really need to kick off your self-improvement together.


Try not to start with “I” all the time. Remember this is about your partner. The awesome way they talk, act, look, smell, help, support, surprise, enchant you that you’re grateful about.


Don’t have a gratitude journal? Try one of these:



How gratitude changes your mind—literally


If it becomes transactional, or if you somehow use the gratitude journal as leverage—you’ve lost the value completely. The value is in the giving.


Practicing daily gratitude taps into the mechanism of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) called cognitive restructuring. When you practice something over and over—even when you don’t feel it right away—your neurons burn electrical pathways that eventually become the normal route for your thought patterns. Gratitude becomes your usual way of thinking. You adapt it into your thought process.


And you wind up happier. More tuned in to your partner and your surroundings. More open to communicating your desires, needs, and expectations—and listening with empathy to your partner’s.


And as a result, you can become a better lover.



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Ready for more structured exercises for improving your empathy and relationship communication? Check out my DIY sex therapy microcourse – Lipservice: Communication guidelines for better sex.




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© 2021 by Valerie McDonnell

Wordwork by Quillpower