One Simple Habit To Strengthen Your Marriage

My kids woke up this morning demanding these outrageous things like breakfast, clean clothes, and signed permission slips (with the field trip fees to go with them). After I got them out the door, I looked around at the chaos they had left in their wake and began to grumble about the mess I was left to clean up: p.j.s on the coffee table, breakfast dishes on the counter, and, of all things, a toothbrush on the couch.

My shoulders began to tense as I felt myself slip into resentment, believing that I, alone, carry the lion’s share of the work around here. Resentment is poisonous to a marriage, but, thankfully, my husband and I stumbled upon the perfect antidote.

Photo Credit: Brook Cagle on Unsplash

Photo Credit: Brook Cagle on Unsplash

Our Marriage Didn’t Start Off Like This…

I had been married for a few months when a friend, who was years into marriage and raising kids, asked who washed the dishes in our house.

I replied, with swooning in my voice, “We are still in the phase of wanting to do everything together—even the dishes.” (I’m sure she rolled her eyes).

Tucked into a “cozy” (ahem, tiny) basement suite on rain soaked Vancouver evenings, we stood side by side at the sink. One of us elbows deep in suds, the other wiping the sightly damp towel over freshly washed plates. We’d move slowly through this task, catching each other up on the events of our day. It didn’t feel so much like a chore, as it did spending time together. 

Spoiler Alert: We rarely wash dishes together anymore. Swoon over.

Fifteen years and three kids later, we divide and conquer all of the jobs it takes to keep a household running, like making sure the bills are paid, the vehicles are maintained, and the house is at least clean enough to not require a visit from the health department.

And those jobs just keep coming. (Am I right?)

Yet, even with the divide and conquer approach, there I stood this morning, with the stray toothbrush in my hand, resenting the other people in this house for all the jobs they weren’t doing.

I knew this resentment wasn’t a healthy place to stay, and I let my mind remember what unfolded last night when we practiced a simply habit.

Last night I took a risk and tried a new recipe for our family dinner. My kids like and regularly eat each of the ingredients, with the exception, of course, of onions. But, I told myself, the onions are small—the kids won’t notice them (right?). 

Here’s how it went down:

There I stand in my kitchen, chopping vegetables, measuring spices, and stepping on a squished blueberry someone had dropped and forgotten. All the while, the kids come and go, pleading for a snack, asking me to find a very particular piece of LEGO, and complaining that the youngest won’t stop copying them. 

Like a pro, I deal with each of these in turn, (No, you can’t have a snack, okay, fine, but it needs to be fruit, I’ll keep my eyes open for the LEGO, he’s copying you because you’re just so cool). 

My husband walks through the door, tired from work, but willing to quickly find that pesky piece of missing LEGO. He sets the table as he tries to fill me in on his day.

We call the kids to supper; they climb into their seats, take one look at this new recipe I’ve just spent 30 minutes preparing and, as if they conspired together, declare in one voice “What’s that? That looks gross! I’m not eating it. Does it have onions? It does, doesn’t it? I’m not hungry. Can I go play, instead?” They stay at the table until we give in and tell them to go play. 

I feel myself slump a bit lower in my chair. It’s so easy to feel unappreciated in these moments, to believe that I am the only one who does anything for this family. 

It’s easy to put on blinders, to neglect to see all the ways my husband is contributing to our family.

I sigh as my kids scrambled from the table. Their plates are still filled with the food they refused to eat—the food that I put thought and time and effort into cooking. Before they completely disappear, my husband calls them back and reminds them they have something they still need to do. Each one grabs their plate to take to the kitchen, saying in one breath, “Thanks-for-supper-may-I-please-be-excused?” 

I nod and they are off.

Here’s Our Simple Practice:

And then, as we sit enjoying what we have come to refer to as our “after dinner moment” (a moment where we pause after dinner, rather than rushing to go do the next thing), my husband looks at me and says, “thanks for making supper and for trying a new recipe.”

 He doesn’t say it in the same way the kids did. They, bless them, say thanks-for-supper-may-I-please-be-excused because that’s that they’ve been taught to do at the end of the meal. We hope these memorized words will grow in them over the years so that their hearts eventually do feel the gratefulness their words profess.

But my husband’s words of thanks in that moment feel like a genuine appreciation of this very common task of making supper. In that moment, my frustration starts to melt a little because I suddenly feel seen. 

“Thanks for setting the table,” I reply. And as I say those little words, I can no longer play the game in my head where I take credit for everything that ever gets done in our house. I start to feel a bit more generous, a bit more willing to show up again tomorrow night and make another meal. 

The more my husband and I thank each other, the more we notice things we appreciate. It draws us closer, opens us up to one another.

We don’t always get it right, this practice of noticing each other and appreciating each other. We sometimes mis-step, sometimes choose to play the always/never game. (You know that game, right? It’s the one where I ALWAYS do something and you NEVER do). But on our best days, on those days when we remember that we are part of a team, working with each other rather than against each other, we look for ways to appreciate what the other is doing.

We say thanks for things like laundry and dishes, putting kids to bed and picking up stray LEGO pieces. We say thanks for going to work all day, for taking out the garbage, and for doing what it takes around the house to avoid that visit from the health department. 

These are things that will get done in our house whether we are thanked for them or not. We don’t do them in order to be acknowledged—we do them because they need to be done. But our relationship is strengthened when we take the time to notice each other.

We are closer and healthier as a couple when we make choices to not take the other for granted.

A Warning:

Gratitude is not a fix-all. It won’t turn a manipulative or abusive or extremely unhealthy marriage around. And, truth be told, you don’t have to give thanks for everything.

But in a marriage that has simply fallen into patterns where you no longer notice the little ways that the other person contributes, intentionally practicing gratitude has the potential to steer a relationship out of some of those ruts, draw you closer together, and begin to build a healthier marriage. 

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Want more gratitude in your life?

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