Monday, September 7, 2009

Relationship Rule #3: Find ways to show appreciation

Often times, our significant other will do nice things for us and we say "thank you" but we leave it there. It is thought that the words, "thank you" are enough, that they say what we want to be said. But in today's society, "thank you" are merely words, and we hear people say things all the time. We only know that something really matters when we see actions that really say "thank you."

It is vital that we show how much we appreciate what our significant others do for us. If you have ever gotten a present for Christmas or a birthday that you just wanted to roll your eyes and say "do you even know me?!!!", then you know that you can say "thank you" for something and have your significant other not necessarily know that you aren't happy with it, or have them get so used to it that they just say "that's just how they are." The problem with that is that we never really get what we want for presents, we never really show we understand each other, we don't take the time to find out what is important to each other, and in the end, we create just one more small fracture in a relationship that may be part of the breaking up of the relationship.

In previous rules, we have learned how important it is to listen, to talk, to focus on the other person, and how important it is to study the "little things" to show we listen and care. That is a lot of work, and it must be rewarded to cement such behaviors. Let me illustrate the point for you.

My wife is originally from the Philippines. In Filipino culture, family is very important, and in my wife's family, they are from a very rural area. That means that while my wife enjoys our life in America, she also suffers from both missing her family by being away from them for years at a time, but also a little guilt that she doesn't talk about that is sort of like survivor's guilt from a tragedy, where she feels a little guilty about living the "good life" while they don't even have air conditioning.

As a result, we took this trip we are on in the Philippines that we saved up for. To help with those things and to help her family out, we brought some presents like chocolate, but also educational tools for her two year old nephew to give him opportunities that they never had, and took them shopping for things from pillows, to new cookware, to "dressers" to organize clothes, and new clothes, and more.

But the trip goes beyond that. It is really about creating moments and happy times with the family that she will remember. Her grandparents are getting older, so she may or may not see them again. That means this trip is important to build memories and pictures of them, as well as to spend time with the family. (Side note: when you do something for your significant other, make sure it is about them. Don't steal the attention!)

With each passing day, my wife does little things to show me how much she appreciates all the work we have done and how much she appreciates the trip. Some days, there is just that extra hug and that look that made me fall in love with her that says "thank you." It is a genuine look that is heartfelt, and no words like "thank you" need to be spoken. Other days, it is the coming home from shopping with her mom with some special food treat; noticing my sweating in 90 degrees at 85% humidity and bringing over a cold gatorade or orange juice without me asking; wiping the sweat off my brow and neck; or other small things.

Keep in mind, when we are at home, I am more likely to wait on my wife than she is to wait on me, so these are things that I would not normally expect, but really show her appreciation for things being done while we are there. And in response, I continue to do more things on the trip that show our appreciation or the implementation of our plans that we worked hard to bring on the trip.

Where we are, there really isn't a lot of privacy for anything like a romantic reward, but that doesn't mean that there can't be some romance in the reward. Sure, we are in a very conservative village (generally speaking) and not having much privacy, but there are little romantic things like a nice kiss that you might do in a public place, or sweet whispers, or short, gentle massages of the neck or upper back while sitting down, and so on.

The point being: Make sure to show your appreciation for actions that are meant to make you happy, and work together to make those special times memorable and special.

Remember, at our most fundamental levels, our behaviors are still guided by pain and pleasure principles, where we avoid pain, and seek pleasure. By giving pleasure through steps of appreciation, we create incentives for more positive behaviors through our positive reinforcement. And let's face it, positive reinforcement is always more fun than negative reinforcement.

In other words, have fun, share your appreciation for efforts to make you happy, even if they are imperfect, and avoid the painful fights and fractures that may result if you don't show that appreciation. Design a happy relationship, don't just hope it happens by accident.

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