I love you: Say the things that go without saying

Expressing appreciation for your spouse

In a previous post I talked about when less is more: when you’re making a request for change in your relationship keep it short and to the point. In this post, I’m talking about when you need to say more. Express more appreciation for your spouse, say I love you more. If you think it’s a given, that it goes without saying that you love and appreciate your spouse, say it anyway.

People love knowing they are appreciated. Some people may not like hearing the actual words too much, and if your spouse is one of these people, you probably know it already. The point I’m making here is not so much about saying the words as it is about communicating the feeling. Anytime I suggest you say something feel free to substitute in your mind a way you know your spouse likes to receive love and appreciation.

Giving belonging

Belonging to a group, being accepted and valued, is critically important to humans. Sometimes in American culture we downplay, deny, or criticize this need. You might hear things like “they’re just trying to fit in” or “don’t care so much what other people think.” The underlying message is often that it’s bad or shameful to want to belong. Nothing could be further from the truth!

Human beings are social; we live and thrive in groups. Our modern, digital, global society lets us forget just how important belonging is. Humans have survived for thousands and thousands of years in groups. For much of human history, not belonging to a group or not having group support meant death. On some level we all know this. This is why solitary confinement is a punishment: humans don’t do well alone.

When we are expressing love, appreciation, and acceptance to our partners, we are giving them a place to belong. We are filling a fundamental need all people have. And isn’t that what we all want? To have our most basic needs, our deepest longings filled and soothed by our intimate partners?

What if you don’t know what to say?

Over time we grow used to our spouses. We forget how refreshing and inspiring and attractive their good qualities were when we first met. Maybe you said so many I love yous during your early years together that you think you’re covered for life. Or maybe it starts to feel redundant and routine to say the same thing all the time.

My advice here is: don’t overthink it. Expressing appreciation doesn’t have to be flowers and a nice dinner. It doesn’t have to be concert tickets, romantic getaways, or love poems. It can be as simple as a text during the day that says “thinking about you. Wanted you to know I love you.” Or a long kiss when you get home with “I had a hard day. I’m so glad to be home with you.” Or “thanks for cleaning the clog out of the shower drain. It’s a gross job that I hate doing. I really love that you do that.”

Think about the ways being with your partner makes your life easier. If that’s too hard to do, think about how your life would be harder without them in it. Then look at the flip side and express appreciation for those things. For example, if you have kids and parenting your kids would be a lot harder without your spouse, you could say something like “Thank you for how you contribute to parenting our kids. I really appreciate your support and partnership.” If your life would be harder financially without your partner, you could say “I appreciate how you help to support us. Thank you for working hard and contributing to our family.” Or “thanks for sticking with me through the hard times. My life would be pretty lonely without you.”

Relationship benefits

Putting a little bit of effort into expressing love and appreciation has some fantastic benefits to your relationship. For starters, the more you’re aware of the good things your relationship brings to you, the more positive you will feel about it. In short, you will be happier.

The healthiest and happiest relationships are mutual. The more love and appreciation you express to your spouse, the more you are likely to get back. And that feels good too.

Expressing love and appreciation are deposits in the emotional bank account. When you experience conflict or problems a positive balance in the emotional bank account helps protect your relationship from damage. (If you don’t know it already, you will experience problems. I’ve written a whole series of posts about conflict management here, here, here, here, and here.) If you aren’t making enough deposits in the account, eventually your balance will go into the red and you become overwhelmed and hopeless about the relationship. These expressions of love and appreciation can also help you repair the damage or bridge the distance that happens when you fight.

Warm fuzzies

So expressing love helps you feel happy, get more love back, makes deposits in your emotional bank account, and helps you reconnect after or stay connected during conflict. You’ve got nothing to lose!

Are you feeling all warm and fuzzy yet? Good! Talking about maintaining our relationships or working on our marriages can sometimes come with a sense of dread. We think it’s all about fighting and frustration. Even though from the outside, marriage counseling may look like it’s a lot of conflict and heartache, it’s also about love, affection, appreciation, meaning, and making life dreams come true.

If you’d like my help falling in love again, contact me here.

To learn about how this concept helps in weathering a spouse of family member’s change in faith, read this post.

I love you: Say the things that go without saying
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