Dr. Suzanne B. Phillips

Licensed Psychologist, Psychoanalyst, Diplomate in Group Psychology, Certified Group Therapist, Author, Radio Host and Media Consultant Covering a Wide Range of Psychological Topics

Post: Why Can’t We Just Say “Thank You” to Our Partners?

Money and sex are often considered prime factors in couple conflict and unhappiness. Yet an important but overlooked factor that erodes relationships is the lack of expressed appreciation. It’s not that people want their partners falling all over them with praise and applause. What most partners want at times is a simple, “Thank You.”

What Makes This So Difficult?thank you yellow

People are complicated. Add in couple dynamics, prior history, unconscious factors, cultural context and you multiply those complications.

Adaptation and Invisibility

Sometimes partners work so seamlessly that the efforts of each person are almost invisible. They go unnoticed and unrecognized.

Given our human tendency for adaptation and expectation, it is not surprising that we often take each other for granted. How often do we miss thanking our partner for what he/she has done and instead complain about the undone chore, forgotten item, unpaid bill or late arrival?

  • Gratitude shakes up this adaptation. The plan to make note of a partner’s efforts and occasionally thank him/her even for the“ small stuff” makes both partners more visible to each other.
  • Such appreciation was found to be one of the most important factors contributing to a satisfying marriage according to long-term married (25-40 years) couples.

Fear of Dependency

  • Basic to a strong and loving relationship is the balance of the partners’ independence and mutual dependence. The very essence of gratitude implies recognition of benefiting from someone else. When that someone else is a stranger, a golf buddy or an acquaintance, the stakes are not high and a “thank you” is easy.

“ He/she thanks everyone but not me.”

  • The expression of gratitude to a partner is an admission of need that leaves some partners feeling vulnerable or “one down.” Whether consciously or not, they avoid saying thank you to avoid acknowledging their dependence on their partner.

A memorable example of this is depicted in the ending scene of the movie “My Cousin Vinny,” when Mona Lisa Vito confronts Vinny Gambino for his inability to thank her. He responds by insisting that he wanted to win his first case without help from anyone. Her classic answer is a re-definition of fear of dependency.

“ You know this could be a sign of things to come. You win all your cases but with someone else’s help…and then afterwards you have to go up to somebody and you have to say, thank you……Oh my God, what a ****ing nightmare!”

Fear of Disqualifying Negative Feelings

  • Sometimes people avoid thanking their partner because they fear that the positive expression of appreciation for something will disqualify the anger or upset they feel about something else. They worry that their partner will assume everything is okay and nothing will ever change.
  • Research findings suggest just the opposite. An important and perhaps unexpected finding of expressing gratitude to your partner is that it enhances your view of that person and the desirability of the relationship in a way that actually increases your comfort in “voicing concerns.”
  • This in turn adds to other relationship maintenance behaviors. When the voicing of concerns provides information about your needs, it improves a partner’s caring and appropriate responding. This adds to the feeling of trust and appreciation on both sides.

If you have thanked your partner for being the one who always makes the social plans, it will be easier for your partner to hear a request that you would like stay local this weekend because you are exhausted.

The Guilt Factor

  • Some partners avoid thanking their partners not because they don’t realize what their partners do but because they realize how much more their partners do than they do!
  • This avoidance of guilt by avoiding a thank you has a negative impact on both partners because it does not improve things. It adds insult to injury. It is incompatible with the mutuality and authenticity needed for a truly viable relationship.

The Benefits of a ‘Thank You’

  • If you are aware that you have not thanked your partner very much—it is never to late to start.
  • If you think that your partner knows you appreciate him/her and doesn’t need you to say, ‘Thank you’ – I invite you to consider that Mindreading is overrated.
  • Research tells us that expressing gratitude as opposed to just thinking about it, has proven to have even greater benefits for both partners. The expression of gratitude by partners, more so than relationship satisfaction, relationship length or social desirability, predicts the feeling of Communal Strength in a relationship. It invites the desire to give and care for the other without strings attached. It fosters partners’ seeing each other in a good light because it allows a focus on positive traits. It is a win-win for both.

No one outgrows the gift of gratitude.

Don’t Miss Journalist Rachel Hills speaking about The Sex Myth on Psych Up Live Thursday 11/12/15 at 2PM EST