The Gratitude Experiment


Early in my 25-year marriage, I was afraid to thank my husband for taking out the trash or washing the dishes. I thought if I thanked him, he would think those jobs were optional and stop doing them. I also wanted to make sure that he learned to do household chores the right way — my way. If I thanked him for a job that wasn’t done to my standards, I felt I’d never get him to shape up and do those tasks properly.

That’s why, when my husband did the dishes I said, “That’s great, but how about wiping off the counters now?” which was no thanks at all. That was a big plate of dismissal with a heaping side of criticism. I feel so sad for that younger version of myself who had no concept of the power of the practice of being grateful and was so miserable as a result.

As you can imagine, my husband wasn’t very inspired to help around the house because every time he tried, I either redid what he had just done or pointed out what he’d done wrong, like I was his grumpy boss.

As a result, I was responsible for doing everything, and I quickly became overwhelmed and resentful.

I didn’t know then that resentment is the opposite of gratitude, but it’s true. You can’t feel grateful and resentful at the same time. Since I didn’t know that, I spent years feeling like my mother on her worst day. My marriage suffered, and I insisted we go to marriage counseling so the counselor could fix him and I could finally be happy. When even counseling didn’t help, I finally turned to women who had long, happy marriages for advice. What they said shocked me because it was so different than what I’d seen and learned growing up.

It turns out there are six intimacy skills, which you’d think they would teach in Relationships 101 at every college, but they didn’t teach it at mine. When I stick to the intimacy skills, things go well at my house. We’re playful and relaxed. I feel connected and cherished, and the passion runs high. His face lights up when I come home. We rarely fight or have the long cold wars we used to endure.

When I forget about the intimacy skills, as I sometimes do, things don’t go so well around here. That’s how important the intimacy skills are.

The most powerful of the six skills is expressing gratitude—not when you feel it, but as a ritual or a discipline. To paraphrase Arthur C. Clarke, it’s powers are indistinguishable from magic.

One of the wise married women made this suggestion: Just express gratitude to your husband every day.

That didn’t make any sense to me. After all, I was doing everything around the house and no one was thanking me. But I was desperate to not be divorced, even though I often threatened it. Finally, I made myself come up with a few things to thank him for. I decided as an experiment to share three gratitudes a day, so I’d know for sure I was really doing it. That way if it didn’t work, I could say I tried.

I begrudgingly said, “Thanks for working hard to support our family.”

Next came, “Thanks for taking out the trash.”

Finally, “Thanks for trimming the tree.”

To my surprise, my husband went looking for more ways to help out. He even volunteered to do the dishes again, having apparently forgotten that I deemed him not properly trained for the task. When he was done, I thanked him, and I actually felt grateful. I could see he really wanted to make me happy, and when he succeeded it just inspired him to do even more for me.

As I continued with my three gratitudes a day, it became obvious my husband really was helpful and did do a lot to lighten my load. This was a shock. Since what we focus on increases, my newfound practice of focusing on what I appreciated made those things increase. But because I had also changed my attitude, he was responding to me with more generosity, and his own gratitude. “Thanks for putting the laundry away,” he started saying, and, “I appreciate you making us this wonderful dinner.” I nearly fell out of my chair. I had to admit, I loved feeling appreciated too.

That’s why, of the six intimacy skills I discovered when I was trying to save my marriage, I consider gratitude to be the most powerful of all. It does double duty because it changes my focus, which changes the way I perceive my situation. But it also changes my reality because it changes the way my husband responds to me.

It’s been over 17 years since I started giving my husband three gratitudes a day, and I can’t imagine life any other way now. There’s quite a culture of gratitude at our house. We thank each other all day long—often more than three times. It feels good, and helps us both remember how fortunate we are. It also helps us feel connected and affectionate. I’m no longer the martyr who exhausts herself trying to do everything. In fact, while I was writing this piece, my husband washed all the dishes and took out the trash.

I couldn’t be more grateful.

[jbox title="About the author:" border="5" radius="15"] Laura Doyle is a radio show host, New York Times best-selling author of The Surrendered Wife : A Practical Guide to Finding Intimacy, Passion, and Peace with Your Man, and the founder of Laura Doyle Connect, an international relationship coaching company that teaches women the intimacy skills they need to have passionate, peaceful relationships. Follow her on Twitter here.

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