The simple act of saying “Thank you” in a relationship can be both nurturing and healing. Saying thank you is showing your friend or partner that you notice the ways they are contributing to the relationship. People contribute to their relationships in many different ways. Some of these ways may seem small or inconsequential to you, yet to the one contributing in these ways, they are a statement of love and caring.
A young couple came to see us in counseling. They had a two-year-old son and a three-month-old baby. Both worked full time, juggling their schedules so at least one parent could be home most of the time. They saw each other very little and the time they did have together was poor in quality. Often, in these times when they were together, they each complained about the other: “Why didn’t you wash the diapers when you saw we were running out?” or “The dishes are still dirty from the meal you made yourself.” Or “You didn’t pay the rent on time.” Each was seeing the other in terms of not doing, or not contributing. This of course resulted in more and more resentment building between them. They both felt overburdened by work and parenting responsibilities, and seemed unable to find the time to nurture the relationship. They wanted to stay together but couldn’t see how they could spend more quality time alone together.
So we needed to work with the little time they had together, which usually included the children. We asked them to begin noticing all the ways (however small) the other was contributing, and deliberately overlook (for the time being) those things they wished the other would do. Then we suggested they communicate these observations with gratitude through speaking and also leaving little notes.
Because this couple really did want to stay together, they set about this exercise of “contribution-hunting” in earnest. For two weeks they noticed and thanked one another: “Thank you for washing the baby’s clothes.” “Thank you for buying the groceries.” “Thank you for fixing that leaky faucet.” “Thank you for getting up in the middle of the night with the baby.”
Then something else happened. The gratitude began to deepen: “Thank you for being my friend.” “Thank you for listening to me when I had that crisis at work.” “Thank you for being such a good parent to our children.” “Thank you for loving me.”
This couple was still very busy and consumed with responsibilities at work and with the children. Yet the simple act of noticing contributions and giving thanks brought a deeper love and harmony to their relationship. Rather than resenting the other for lack of contributing, they valued and acknowledged the other for what they did give. This created an atmosphere of safety where each could also communicate what he or she needed from the other. They knew the other valued their contributions and therefore were less afraid to share their needs.
We invite you to put this into practice in your own life. Is a partner, parent, child, sibling, friend, or associate contributing to your life in small ways that go unnoticed or unthanked by you? Someone may be showing their love and caring in a way that has been invisible to you. Commit yourself to acknowledge and thank them for their contribution, and then watch your relationship with this person take on a new depth.