Does Your Relationship Have A Culture Of Appreciation? Why It's So Important

Licensed Psychoanalyst By Jordan Dann, MFA, LP, CIRT
Licensed Psychoanalyst
Jordan Dann, MFA, LP, CIRT, is a licensed psychoanalyst in private practice in New York City working with individuals and couples. She is a graduate of the Gestalt Associates for Psychotherapy, an IMAGO couples therapist, and a Somatic Experiencing practitioner.
Married couple in love wearing casual outfit spending time together standing in modern kitchen

Have you ever considered the role that good management plays in successful companies? Employing the metaphor of management can be a helpful frame for you to reflect on your behavior in your relationship.

For example, if you wanted to have a successful company, you would take great care and time to articulate your mission, values, objectives, and to identify the corresponding behavior required to embody this mission. The same is true with your partnership. The more intentional and clear you can be with your partner about the values and behaviors of your partnership, the more successful, joyful, and satisfying your relationship culture will be.

Likewise, we can look to good management practices to understand the importance of building a culture of appreciation in our relationship—a necessary skill for increasing relationship fulfillment.

The benefits of an appreciation practice.

Every successful company has a foundational commitment to ensuring that the people who are part of the culture feel seen, heard, and valued. People choose to continue to work in an environment where they know they have an impact, and the only way they know they have an impact is because someone told them so.

In relationships, a robust appreciation practice is a tremendous way to ward off resentment and criticism. Making daily deposits of appreciation into the bank account of your relationship will also develop a culture of goodwill and high regard. The daily appreciations you offer your partner will create a reserve of generosity and trust, which will serve your partnership during inevitable moments of conflict.

The more I've been appreciated by my partner, the more I trust his love and commitment, which allows me to listen to his frustrations with greater openness and to recover from conflict with more resiliency.

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Examples of appreciation in relationships.

How do I give an appreciation beyond "you look beautiful" or "great job"? Excellent question! Here are a few ways to expand your awareness of your partner and enhance your appreciation practice:

  1. Appreciations that are related to the characteristics and qualities your partner brings to the world and to others. "I appreciate how much you care about the project you are working on. I admire how much thought you invest in thinking about how to engage your co-workers. I feel inspired when I see you work with such dedication."
  2. Appreciations that are related to my partner's autonomous pursuits, goals, or values. "I really appreciate how dedicated you are to your capoeira practice and how much you give back to the community. I feel proud of who you are when I see you doing this."
  3. Appreciations that recognize and deepen ways that my partner makes me feel good. "I appreciate the perspective you offered me the other night. I feel cared for when you take time to respond to the things I care about."
  4. Appreciations that recognize how your partner shows up for others. "I really appreciate the way I see you take care of your Mom. When I see how tender you are with her, I feel really touched."

How to build a culture of appreciation in your relationship.

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In a thriving company, "positive recognition" is one of the fundamental ways that managers support the health, sustainability, and success of a company. However, if we borrow business research as a way to explore partnership satisfaction, we can learn a great deal. 

Research shows that in most companies, employee recognition is scarce because of a combination of several factors:

  1. People don't know how to provide recognition effectively.
  2. People assume a one-size-fits-all relationship to recognition. 
  3. People think too narrowly about what people find rewarding and what constitutes recognition. 
  4. People don't offer timely recognition. 

So, in relation to these research points, I offer a short checklist for you and your partner to consider:

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1. Be intentional about appreciation.

Do you have an appreciation and recognition practice? If so, is it intentional and teachable? Imagine you were going to teach someone else how to appreciate and recognize their partner. Would you be able to do this? If you can't teach this skill, then your appreciation practice can benefit from increased intentionality and clarity. 

2. Offer recognition for the things that matter to you both.

Do you know the ways your partner likes to be seen? What attributes or behaviors do they value about themselves? Are you recognizing those capacities? Are you recognizing the things that you value? Business research shows that employee behaviors that are recognized and celebrated are repeated and increased.

Consider, too, making sure to express appreciation for any invisible labor they do in the relationship.

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3. Go beyond verbal recognition.

Verbal recognition is paramount, but in what other ways do you like to be recognized? In what ways does your partner like to be recognized? Reflect on the beginning of your relationship and ask yourself: What were the initial romantic behaviors that my partner really enjoyed?

Start to bring these behaviors back into your relationship. Cook a favorite dish, bring home a bouquet of flowers, plan a surprise date, or ask your partner what you do that makes them feel cared for, valued, and seen.

4. Make it a regular, timely practice.

Timeliness might mean positive recognition in the moment of witnessing your partner's behavior, but it can also mean being intentional about creating an "appreciation event." An "appreciation event" means that you check in with your partner to see if they are available to listen without distraction to you as you express your appreciation. You can also create an event by crafting a text, email, Post-it, or other creative gesture to acknowledge and celebrate them.

In order to structure your appreciation language, it is important to name the specific behavior and incorporate emotional focusing. We can borrow from Imago Relationship Therapy here to support a structured dialogue:

  1. Ask your partner if they are available so that they can be as fully present to receive your appreciation as possible. Often when we thank or appreciate our partner, they are busy, distracted, or partially listening. Asking them if they are available helps them to stop what they are doing or share that they aren't available, in which case you can ask them to let you know when they are available. Say, "I'd like to offer you an appreciation. Are you available right now?"
  2. Name the specific behavior. For example, "I appreciate all the times that you pack my lunch in the morning."
  3. Name the feeling that arises in response to your partner's action. For example, "When you do this, I feel loved."  
  4. You can add a deepening aspect of this practice by inviting your partner to mirror the words you are saying. Like a flat mirror, they will reflect back your words as you have spoken them. "What I'm hearing you say is that you appreciate all the times that I pack your lunch and that when I do this you feel loved. Did I get you?"
  5. Close out this practice by saying, "Thank you for receiving my appreciation." Your partner can respond with, "Thank you for sharing your appreciation with me."
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The bottom line.

Positive recognition is a key to any healthy, loving relationship. Just like a work culture that we look forward to being a part of, when we offer intentional, regular appreciation of our partner, we begin to have a shared view that our partnership is a great place to be. The inner belief transforms into, "My relationship is a place where I am seen and valued. The difficult moments are worth it because I feel so appreciated!"

Positive recognition increases your partner's sense of confidence and self-worth, and when you make an intentional investment in this practice, your partner's view of you also enhances because: We want to be close to people who make us feel good!

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