Countless ‘Little Thanks" Build a Marriage

Published November 6, 1986. It is becoming evident to me that good marriages are based more on many little things than a few big things. Little things like common courtesy and appreciation.

When I counsel couples, I try and get them to agree to do some positive things for each other during the coming week. Equally important, I asked them to acknowledge when their marriage partner does something to indicate love or caring. This is more than just being nice to each other. It is based on sound therapeutic practice.

Often in a marital relationship, either or both partners are doing things to try and please the other. The problem is that many of their efforts go unnoticed or unacknowledged. I have found it takes as much effort and skill to acknowledge caring and kindness as it does to be caring and kind.

Appreciation means “To evaluate the worth, quality, or significance of another. To admire greatly. To recognize with gratitude.” And I wonder how much we do it in our marriages.

Can you remember when you went out of your way to do something of worth for your marriage partner, and it went unnoticed? Or has your spouse recently done something of significance for you without you acknowledging it?

One of the great myths perpetuated several years ago by the movie “Love Story” was the title of the theme song. It stated, “Love Means You Never Have to Say You’re Sorry.” This implies that people know and understand each other so well they never have to express their thoughts or feelings. Things like when you are sorry, but you don’t have to say it because the other person already knows.

A spinoff of that thought is that we don’t have to show appreciation to a husband or wife because they already know we feel that way. Such is hardly the case. I know of no human being who does not need appreciation or recognition when it is due.

Not long ago I had an experience that reminded me of the importance of showing recognition. I was on my way to work at BYU and was traveling the Provo-Orem diagonal just past the University Mall. I had many things to do that morning and was in a hurry to get to work.

As I drove along I notice a car off the road with its hood up. As I approached I saw it was a woman in her early 30s. I got out of the car and asked her if I could help. She was out of gas, so I volunteered to get some. She then said she had no money. So I told her I’d drive down to the Gas N Go and buy the gas for her.

On the way I thought about how she would shower me with praise for my gallantry in getting gasoline for her. I thought she would offer to pay for it, but she would lavish so much praise I would refuse the money. I borrowed a gas can, put $2 worth of gas in it, and drove back and put it in her car. At that point I thought she would at least say “thank you” or even offer to repay me for the gas.

But she did not. She simply started her car and drove off toward the university without saying anything. To make matters worse, I saw the woman on campus later that morning. I knew she saw me, and I thought for sure she would walk up and say something. But she didn’t then either.

I noticed then how I felt and realized the indignity and humiliation of doing something worthwhile for someone without any degree of gratitude or appreciation. Sure, I know such good acts should be done in secret. But, like most others, I had not matured to that point yet. Then I thought of times in the past when I, too, had failed to acknowledge kind words or deeds that were done for me.

I vowed at once that whenever someone did something significant for me I would try and recognize it. And I would try extra hard to do this with my wife and children.

I haven’t perfected the art of appreciation yet, but I am getting better at it. How about you?

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