Your marriage communication will get a giant boost if you simply employ the words “Thank you,” more frequently. It’s a great way to make the invisible work your spouse does—and thus your spouse who feels invisible—become visible again.
This is a simple way to affirm your relationship, but we all forget it do it. How do I know this? “Thank you” tops the list of things my clients wish they heard more often from their spouse.
My clients complain that their spouse doesn’t notice all the contributions they make to create a nice home and/or life. We all want to feel seen, and saying “Thank you” makes your spouse feel seen for their efforts while, at the same time, affirming that you need them in your life.
When I felt taken for granted, I asked David if he’d try to find one thing each day to thank me for. (Gold star to me making a clean ask, right? We talked about The Clean Ask Formula in episode 30) He appreciated things I didn’t expect:
- Thanks for walking me to the door.
- Thanks for cutting my hair.
- Thanks for calling the kids so much.
I didn’t expect any of these thank yous. I wanted him to thank me for cleaning the kitchen, but what amazed me is how much these affirmations buoyed my spirits. I felt tenderness grow where the resentment was sneaking in.
You want thanks for cleaning the kitchen
I still wanted to be thanked about the kitchen though, so, I refined my clean ask, “David, I enjoy taking care of our house. I really like the combination of writing and domestic chores. So, I’m not complaining. But I think I need to feel appreciated for the chores I do. Could you thank me for some of the invisible work I do so I can keep enjoying it rather than getting resentful?”
Here’s the next list of things I got thanked for:
- Thanks for lighting all these candles. It looks so cozy in here.
- The white board is a great system. We never run out of things. (That’s where we keep the grocery list.)
- Thanks for going to the gym.
It was really sweet to hear my husband appreciate the lighted candles and the great systems we have. But still, no kitchen thanks. I decided to ask directly, “David, how come you don’t thank me for cleaning the kitchen?” (By the way, not a clean ask, right? A clean ask would have been, “Could you thank me for cleaning the kitchen?”)
He answered the question I asked however, “I don’t want to thank you for cleaning the kitchen because I don’t want you to think that’s your job.”
Oh. Wow. That surprised me. I know it’s not my job to clean the kitchen. But this was a newsflash: David thought if he thanked me for cleaning the kitchen that he was telling me cleaning the kitchen was my job to do.
What else does “Thank you” say?
This is a great distinction to make. I felt the opposite way. I felt like the more he thanked me, the more he was saying “The kitchen is a shared job. Thanks for taking a turn doing it.”
When you make “Thank you” part of your habitual vocabulary—asking cleanly for the thank you’s you want as well as giving thank you’s regularly—you create a space for deeper understanding with your spouse.
Questions to ponder about “Thank you” at your house:
- How often do you and your spouse say/hear “thank you?”
- Is there a reason you don’t say/hear thank you to your spouse as often as you’d like?
- Maybe you weren’t raised with thank you’s so they don’t come naturally to you.
- Maybe, like my husband, you hesitate to say thank you because you worry it will send a message that you expect that chore in the future.
- Are you worried you’ll draw your spouse’s attention to a task you don’t want to do?
Whether it’s a shared task, or you and your spouse tend to divide and conquer, tasks are often a way to live into your values. Living up to your values, however, takes work. When you have the help of your spouse, it feels easier. So, say, “Thank you.”
Perhaps you value creating community, so, when your spouse invites friends over, can you say, “Thank you for stretching to keep our home filled with people” instead of complaining how you were late getting to bed because there was so much noise?
Maybe you value a clean home, but your follow-through is lacking. Can you say, “Thanks for asking me to clean the bathroom. I forget to do it, and I need the reminder, but I really like living in a clean home.”
Think of thank you like it’s a great opportunity to appreciate your spouse for those actions that foster your values. Say “Thank you,” when your spouse helps you choose the bigger life.
Want a way to up your “Thank you” game?
Here’s some prompts and lists to help you up your thank you game.
Thank your spouse for routine tasks. This is the biggest complaint I hear in my coaching practice. My clients feel invisible. They want to know their spouse appreciates their invisible work.
- Cleaning the kitchen, bathroom, or any other part of the house that gets cleaned. Cleaning chores are notorious for creating invisibility in your marriage, so saying thank you helps enormously to make your spouse feel seen.
- Does your spouse rotate tires, change the oil, or other regularly tended maintenance on the car?
- Getting the mail and tending to it. (This is my most onerous task and David doesn’t mind it, so I thank him several times a year that he’s taken it completely off my plate.)
- Any sort of financial task your spouse does like keeping the bills paid, or updating all your on-line accounts when the credit card expires.
When you thank your spouse for the invisible tasks in your marriage, you make your happiness visible. These tasks disappear in the routine of everyday life, but if these tasks didn’t get done, your life would be icky.
These kinds of thank yous wake up your marriage so you realize, “I like my life as it is. I want to keep noticing that I like my life.”
Thank your spouse for things that are valuable to you
Here’s some examples:
- Thanks for sending thank you notes. I don’t do that, but it’s important to me, so I’m very grateful you are so good at that.
- Thanks for organizing our family vacation. I value getting together with my siblings, but the job of organizing is often too much for me, so I put it off. When you just do it, it feels like magic to me.
- Thanks for making dinner, and going grocery shopping. Having a meal around the table is valuable to me, but I am often so tired at the end of the day, I’m tempted to grab food and sit down to watch something. When you create a real meal, it makes things feel special occasion.
When you thank your spouse for things you find valuable, not only does your spouse feel appreciated, you also bring attention to the value you find in your life. You notice, “Oh, wow! I’m living the life I want to live! And my spouse is helping me make that dream come true.”
My husband mentioned to me this morning that there’s an article in the new Patagonia catalogue about a family with three kids under five who hiked the Pacific Coast Trail. Obviously, being outdoors and spending time appreciating nature is of high value to that family. That wasn’t an easy thing to do. I bet there were lots of opportunities to share gratitude on that hike!
Notice the ways your spouse takes care of themselves
- Thanks for going to the doctor. I want you to live a long time.
- Thanks for joining me for Sober January. It’s a great way for me to reset after all the December parties.
- Thanks for going to the gym. Not only am I’m glad you take care of your health, I love how good your butt looks when you do all those squats.
- Thanks for writing. When you engage your creative brain, you are ten times happier and it’s so wonderful to live with you. When you don’t write, I can feel how empty you feel. (Guess who thanks me for this?)
There are things your spouse does that might seem like they take away from your relationship. My husband takes more adventure trips than I care to take, so he goes without me.
I sometimes get lonely while he’s gone, so it would be tempting for me to get resentful of those trips. But David being adventurous is one of the things that attracts me most. So, I’ve learned to thank him for feeding that part of his soul…and bringing all that wonderful energy back home to me and our marriage.
Sometimes our negativity bias sneaks in without invitation and we unintentionally pour water on the fire of connection in our relationship. This is natural. Remember that negativity bias is what kept your ancestors safe from the saber toothed tiger. It’s good to notice the things that might have a negative effect on your life. Then you can choose safety.
But because this negativity bias is so strong, it’s important to balance it with a healthy dose of loving affirmation.
“Thank you” highlights needs and adds to your marriage dynamic
“Thank you” is affirmational because it lets your spouse know you appreciate them in your life. It also sometimes highlights how much you need your spouse, and we all like to feel needed.
Thank you is additive. When you say, “Thank you,” you bring attention to an invisible part of your marriage communication dynamic. You’re highlighting something that would otherwise go unseen. It’s a great way to keep the fire of your marriage tended and glowing.
Date night discussion
I invite you to talk about the thank yous that you’d like to receive. I know you wish your spouse would magically notice all the lovely things you do and cover you in thank yous.
But we’re all busy. We’re all wrapped up in our own world, eyes focused on our own projects. Thank you is like any new skill; it takes practice and attention to hone.
When you let your spouse know about the things for which you’d like to be thanked, you’re letting your spouse (and yourself) know that you are valuable. And you’re speaking aloud the things that you find valuable. This is important communication.
Try asking this question
What is your childhood association to thank you?
Did you grow up in a house where the words thank you were commonly used? Or was thank you shoved at you as a duty?
It’s helpful to know your childhood associations to thank you, because these will inform your possible reluctance to saying thanks. If you had an aunt who gave you ugly, itchy handmade scarves for Christmas and you were made to wear the scarf AND say thank you to Aunt Ellen, you probably don’t have a very positive association to the word thank you.
If that’s the case, is there a different phrase of appreciation you can use? How can you affirm your spouse with words that feel genuine to you, and still accomplish the goal of noticing all the tenderness and value that your spouse brings to your marriage?
If, however, you grew up in a home filled with the word thank you, I bet it’s easy for you to say it. I wonder if people who say thank you more often feel a larger sense of gratitude. What do you think? What kind of vibe do you want to cultivate in your home?
My second question is what are the 3 things for which you’d most like your spouse to thank you?
Is this uncomfortable for you to ponder? You feel like, “I shouldn’t have to go begging for thanks. My spouse should notice why I deserve thanks on their own.” I get it. We all feel this way.
And, remember my NUMBER ONE most important tool in your relationship? Stay in your own business. When you are wishing your spouse would thank you, you’re in your spouse’s business. You have no power there.
This conundrum is one of the biggest sore spots for my clients. We want things from our spouse, but we don’t want to (and, frankly, we’re not capable!) of making our spouse do things.
I’m opening up a conversation for you. This is your chance. This is your chance to let your spouse know you want to be thanked for the fabulous meals you’re always making.
Remember what happened to me when I told David I wanted to be thanked for cleaning the kitchen? It was such a lovely discussion to hear him say, “If I thank you, it sounds like you’re supposed to clean the kitchen, and I never want you to feel like that.”
You might learn something about your spouse’s philosophy about life when you ask to be thanked.
You are the only one in charge of the “Thank yous” you pour into the world
More importantly, however, you will notice your own value. You will speak about your own value. When you talk about yourself as valuable—as worthy of thanks—you see yourself.
Of course you want your spouse to see you as valuable. I totally get that. But the most important person who needs to see your worth is you.
Affirm yourself lovingly by pointing out the opportunities for your spouse to say thanks.
I want to hear about what makes you want to hear thank you. Will you include me in your life today and send me a quick text about it? My number is 970-210-4480. Tell me what you want to hear thank you for.
And tell me two things you appreciate about your spouse.