Like the rest of us, “Masters” of relationships are only human. There are moments at which they feel driven to distraction by their partner’s personality flaws, and the little hairs on the backs of their necks stand up (yes, they have those t00). “Masters” of relationships experience conflict and go through rough patches – times at which positive sentiments threaten to be replaced by resentment and absentmindedness. Then, you may ask, what makes their relationships so successful?!

In our research, we have found that happy couples succeed by frequently scanning their environment for ways of appreciating each other. 

They show this appreciation through small actions every day, consistently communicating mutual warmth and affection. 

It’s the little things that count!

Dr. Gottman explains how to build a culture of appreciation simply, like this: Notice what your partner is doing right. Catch your partner in the act of doing good stuff!”

Sound easier said than done? Don’t worry. The technique is tried and true. Here’s how it works:

Building a culture of appreciation, fondness, and admiration involves using the things you know about your partner to show that you care and want them to be happy. Positive thoughts invoke positive feelings, and the goal is to turn both into positive actions that help to heal and bring companionship back in your relationship.

Here are some simple ways Dr. Gottman suggests for expressing genuine appreciation, admiration, and respect:

  • Express affection
  • Exchange tender touch
  • Kiss one another passionately
  • Give compliments
  • Surprise presents (go for the thought, not the price tag!)
  • Share silly and/or romantic poems
  • Ask, “What can I do next week to make you feel more loved?”

When you take the time to notice and express what your partner does that makes your life easier, makes you smile, or reminds why you were attracted to them in the first place, they feel validated. And validation is a powerful thing: we all love for our actions to be accepted and appreciated, and want to be honored and respected.

Some examples follow:

Mary knows that her husband Phil has been working on a very demanding and stressful project at work, coming home late each night, too exhausted to do much of anything… So one night, as they’re getting ready for bed, Mary takes Phil’s hand and tells him how proud she is of him, and how much she appreciates his hard working-nature and support of the family. Phil visibly relaxes and tells her how nice it is to hear her say that. He was afraid she’d be upset about his absence, and is glad that she understands he’s doing this for his loved ones.

Earl has a favorite potato salad recipe passed down from his mom, but his wife Peggy grew up with her mom always making the traditional version… So every time Earl makes potato salad, he makes a special bowl of it just for Peggy. This simple act means much more to Peggy than potato salad should, because it shows her that he knows what she likes and cares enough to continue this tradition just for her.

Fred has always been very self-conscious about his body, but has been working out really hard and is close to his goal weight… So his girlfriend Susie makes a special effort to let him know how attractive he is to her. When she hugs him, she mentions how strong his arms are getting, and when he’s walking around, she lets him see her long glances. When she sees him on the scale, she tells him that he gets more handsome every day, regardless of what he’s gained or lost. Suzie’s affectionate remarks reassure Fred, giving him confidence in his appearance, as well as letting him know that he is loved no matter what his body looks like.

Emma has wanted to spend more time with her husband Matt, but in his free time he’s been golfing a lot with his friends, something that Emma doesn’t know how to do… So one afternoon when they are both free, she asks him to take her to the driving range and show her proper form! He’s surprised at first (she’s never expressed an interest in golf) but lights up when she tells him that she’s always been impressed by his talent, commitment, and love for the game. He’s delighted to know that she wants to be a part of something so important to him. This show of admiration and affection fills Matt with good feelings for Emma and makes him excited to teach her.

As you use these examples above as a model for expressing appreciation, remember that you and your partner are a team. Build trust by staying attuned and showing that you are on their side! For example, when your partner is worried about a personal situation at work, letting them know how proud you are of them and how much you support them will have a deeper effect than telling them how good they look in their new outfit! Use what you know about your partner to show love and respect, and watch your romance grow…

More in The Archives
Weekend Homework Assignment: Building a Culture of Appreciation

Ellie Lisitsa is a staff writer at The Gottman Institute and a regular contributor to The Gottman Relationship Blog. Ellie is pursuing her B.A. in Psychology with an emphasis on Cognitive Dissonance at Reed College in Portland, Oregon.