Being in a relationship takes a lot of energy and commitment. Sometimes you may feel that your partner doesn’t really understand or appreciate how much you really do to keep things going. It seems like they should notice more, pitch in more, and be more grateful for what you do.
Should you have to “ask” for them to notice all you do? Shouldn’t it be obvious to them if they are paying attention?
“Why does it all seem to fall on me?” you might be asking yourself.
Over decades of working with couples, we have found this common complaint to be among the most frustrating and deflating obstacles for couples.
Fortunately, there is a way to turn this feeling of being taken for granted into an occasion for sharing and generosity.
This is achieved through the process of acknowledgment and expressing appreciation. There is a way to have your partner acknowledge you more, and it really works.
Acknowledgment is the practice of noticing and appreciating something positive that one of you has said or done.
It fosters intimacy during the high points of your life and strengthens your relationship during the low points. It improves communication and keeps your relationship alive.
How to build a cycle of acknowledgment and why it’s important
Why do you feel like your partner is taking you for granted so much?
It’s probably because you have not been acknowledged for what you do every day. Things like doing the dishes and the laundry, making dinner, and picking up the kids from school become routine but no less stressful or time-consuming.
It is important to take time at the beginning and end of your day to talk with each other about the tasks for the day, and then acknowledge your partner for doing them. Also, be sure to let your partner know what you are taking on that day so that you can be recognized for it. Too often we just assume they should know.
Get back what you give
What you may not be seeing is that your partner feels the same way about what they do. If you don’t think they are doing much it may be that you do not see it. The fact is that the more you give acknowledgment, the more you are likely to get it back. And what you don’t appreciate and reinforce will disappear. Basic behavioral principles in psychology demonstrate that actions that are rewarded are likely to recur more often.
So, if you want more acknowledgment, it is helpful to appreciate frequently the things your partner does that you like and that you might normally take for granted.
This is the kind of appreciation that close friends share with each other. Why not treat your partner at least as nicely as you treat your friends?
Here are three ways to inspire your partner’s acknowledgement — by acknowledging them first
A powerful acknowledgment is different than just a “thank you.” It requires being, vulnerable, and specific, There are three components of a deep and moving acknowledgment:
1. Be specific about the action taken by your partner
To be truly effective, an acknowledgment must be fully experienced by both the speaker and the listener.
It is important to communicate your appreciation specifically and meaningfully. If your partner brings you breakfast in bed when you are sick, your acknowledgment will mean more if you say, “I really appreciate you bringing me breakfast” than just saying “thank you” or “you are such a good person.”
If you are the giver of the action, let your partner know what you have done and why. You may want to get in the habit of requesting an acknowledgment from time to time for something you did that went unrecognized by your partner. The appreciation is no less valuable if you ask for it. This is very difficult but extremely powerful.
You don’t have to wonder why they didn’t notice something you did if you tell them about it first. Not to brag, but rather to share your commitment to work for the relationship. It is not a competition, just a way to share the gifts you give each other daily.
Also, make sure you begin your acknowledgment directly with “I appreciate …” or “I acknowledge you for …” rather than “I want to …” or “I would like to …”. Don’t just want to do it — do it.
2. Express the quality you see demonstrated
Often your partner may devalue themselves and their contribution. Being specific about the quality you see helps to build confidence in your partner.
For example, the husband of a couple in marital therapy said he was never told by his parents that they were proud of him. He often put himself down and felt guilty for not doing more. His wife acknowledged him for supporting her in several ways and sticking it out with a difficult job. This helped both of them feel more secure.
3. Let your partner know the impact the acknowledgment has on you and the difference it makes for you.
The husband above was able to feel supported by her and trust his value in the relationship, his job, and his life in general out of feeling acknowledged.
As much as you want to be acknowledged, you may have a hard time accepting praise, no matter how clearly it is given. You may have embarrassment or pent-up resentment over not having been acknowledged in the past. It is up to you as the receiver of praise to let it sink in and let your partner know you truly got the acknowledgment. Be willing to take the appreciation as coaching and a growth opportunity.
As the giver of the acknowledgment, be mindful of the timing of your acknowledgment and your partner’s mood at the time. Timing is everything! Make sure they are in a place to hear you and are not distracted already by something else they have to do. But no matter when you do it, it’s never too late to acknowledge someone.
Creating a habit of acknowledgment
A great way to not feel taken for granted is to get into the habit of acknowledgment with your partner. All habits take some time and practice to develop. Just like exercising, you have to commit to doing it regularly to make it a regular thing. It may take time to get the hang of it, but you will.
You may need to start with a more structured intention and plan to get the habit in place. Try this exercise from our book Lifelong Love:
“Have both of you make a list of things you appreciate about each other and your relationship. Then begin and end each day for at least a week by sharing appreciation and acknowledging the things each of you has accomplished or contributed that day to your partner or the relationship.”
Form a habit of appreciation
A newly married couple, Laura and Dave, did this exercise and shared the things they appreciated about each other every day for a week. Laura said, “Even on the days when we had nothing particularly nice to say, we still managed to find something kind to share, and it reminded us of what attracted us to each other in the first place.”
You might think of a time when you have a habit of getting together on a regular basis, like preparing for bed or having dinner and use that as a reminder to acknowledge each other. You could also create an affirmation or “couple proclamation” that you say every day, and then add an acknowledgment to that statement.
Stop and notice how you feel
Finally, stop and notice how you feel and how your partner looks to you after giving and receiving an acknowledgment. Like Laura and Dave, you will likely see each other in a more positive light than before. You may also find it easier to discuss other matters and express your feelings and opinions after giving or receiving some appreciation. That is the power of acknowledgment!
Research shows it takes six-eight weeks to make a new habit. Talk about it, and begin right away. Don’t be discouraged. If the roadblock to success seems to be poor communication, read some good resources about communication, such as Lifelong Love or Getting The Love You Want.
A good counselor or couples therapist can give some helpful coaching as well.