Appreciation is key in marriage, says Cork psychologist and family therapist

High expectations of your partner can kill appreciation and gratitude, says Dr Colm O’Connor
Appreciation is key in marriage, says Cork psychologist and family therapist

GOOD RELATIONS: One of the key ingredients of a good marriage is appreciation, says Dr Colm O’Connor. Picture: Stock

ONE of the benefits of being in an intimate relationship is having someone who can provide support and help when you need it.

In healthy relationships, people help each other out, they’re supportive when the other person is stressed or upset, and they accommodate each other’s needs by sacrificing or compromising.

If you’ve come to expect these things from your partner, you’re not alone. After all, if you can’t count on your partner to be there for you when you need them, what’s the point?

But it turns out, these expectations may not be good for you. Being able to expect your partner to forgo his plans to go out for a few pints when you come home tired on a Friday means that you are part of a relationship in which you make sacrifices for each other. But according to recent research, it also means that you are less likely to appreciate your partner’s sacrifice and may be less satisfied with your relationship as a result.

A team of researchers tracked 126 couples for eight days. Each day, partners reported on any sacrifices they made (giving up something they wanted in order to accommodate their partner), as well as how grateful they were to their partner, how much they respected their partner, and how satisfied they were with their relationship.

When the authors looked at how expectations shaped reactions to sacrifice, they found that people felt better about the relationship when they had lower expectations! People were more grateful, had more respect for their partners, and were more satisfied with their relationships when they perceived their partner had sacrificed for them, but much more so if they had low expectations of sacrifice. People who had high expectations of the other person were much less appreciative of the sacrifice made. They just took it for granted.

We of course expect help, support, and sacrifice from our partners to some extent — though some people expect these more than others. After all, a supportive partner is one hallmark of a good relationship. But these expectations may also dampen our ability to appreciate when our partners are good to us. Once we come to expect sacrifice from our partners, we no longer see their sacrifices in quite the same positive light.

The point is that high expectations can kill appreciation and gratitude. If your parents paid for you to go to college or to complete a training course you may have said thanks and given them big hugs when you graduated, but if they had always led you to expect that they would pay things then you will not have appreciated as much as you should. If some aunt of yours had told you that she was going to pay you would have been beyond grateful, doing everything you could to express your gratitude to her for ever.

So, what do you do? It’s hard not to come to expect things that happen frequently, we’re built to adapt. That’s why you need to remind yourself to thank your partner for doing his job. You might not be able to get past the expectations completely, but there are some mental tricks that could help increase your gratitude and respect, such as imagining that you were in a relationship with a partner who never engaged in these types of positive behaviours, or setting up a routine of looking for something you appreciate about your partner each day. You can also remember to express your thanks, even for things you expect, so that your expectations don’t prevent your partner from missing out on a moment of feeling appreciated.

If you don’t thank your partner for their sacrifices, it’s possible that without that positive reinforcement, your partner may find themselves less eager to sacrifice for you in the future. Also, try talking with your partner about their expectations of sacrifice and support. You might expect sacrifices from your partner while they have no such expectation from you. Probably a good thing to know so that you’re both on the same page. And if your partner doesn’t thank you for your sacrifices quite as much as you think they should, try to keep in mind that they’re likely falling prey to the same expectations.

One of the key ingredients of a good marriage is appreciation. The willingness to show appreciation for the smallest things and to not take the small intimacies of everyday life for granted. It is only when they are gone, or when they become seriously ill, that you realise how much you took for granted. If you lower your expectations, your sense of entitlement, you realise that you do not deserve much as you think. Be thankful for whatever comes your way.

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