The One Healthy Relationship Habit We Can Learn From The Bachelorette
OK, OK, just hear me out here.
Yes, there are a lot of very inaccurate and frankly pretty dangerous messages about love in The Bachelor franchise, including the idea that you should know you're ready to marry someone after just two months of knowing each other and that a person who won't take "no" for an answer is being "romantic" (looking at you, Colton Underwood). We also get to see toxic behaviors galore play out in real time: Take Chris Randone blatantly gaslighting Tia Booth in last year's season of Bachelor in Paradise, or look at The Bachelorette's Luke Parker, whose actions this season match the dictionary definition of psychopathy with unnerving accuracy.
That said, not everything is terrible in Bachelor Nation. In fact, there's at least one pretty healthy habit that I've picked up from these shows that I've noticed myself practicing in my daily life nowadays. Whenever my partner (or anyone in my life) chooses to open up and share something deeply personal about their life with me, I listen intently. Then I say, "Thank you for sharing that with me."
An abundance of thank yous.
Any seasoned Bachelor fan is probably familiar with this script: During any given one-on-one date or conversation, suitors are often encouraged to share stories from their past that "make them who they are" with the bachelor or bachelorette—things like experiences with divorce or infidelity, or witnessing a family member's death or suffering, or surviving traumas like sexual assault or even school shootings. After they share, the bachelor or bachelorette might ask a few questions, but often the first thing they say in response to this display of vulnerability is "thank you for telling me that." Often it's paired with something along the lines of "It tells me so much about who you are as a person."
This response is part of the Bachelor language; it's a pattern that's reliable and expected, and sometimes contestants move through it so automatically that it can be easy to lose sight of what a lovely exchange that really is.
First of all, science shows us gratitude itself comes with a lot of benefits. It boosts relationship satisfaction, fosters feelings of attachment, and can encourage good behavior via positive reinforcement. As an individual it also makes you pay more attention to your surroundings, makes you more empathetic, and can even improve your mental health.
But for once, I'm not here to talk to you about why gratitude is great. (Even though it is!)
How do you respond when someone shares something very personal and difficult with you?
"Dude, that's rough" might roll off the tongue, or perhaps you're the type of person who launches into an unsolicited advice column anytime someone confides in you. Neither of these is necessarily bad—showing empathy by confirming the speaker's feelings might make them feel sane and less alone, and trying to guide them toward the right course of action demonstrates an investment in their well-being.
But in the relationship workshops and skill-building programs she teaches, family and marriage therapist Linda Carroll tells me she often instructs listeners to always respond with "thank you" first and foremost. "Saying 'thank you' is a way of expressing your true appreciation that they are sharing what is important to them with you," she tells me. "Appreciating them for showing you what is really going on inside is a great way to encourage them to continue."
When you thank someone for sharing their struggles with you, it acknowledges the leap they've just taken and validates their decision to open up to you. It's not easy to be vulnerable, Carroll explains, and that thank you signals not only that they're safe but that their display of vulnerability means something to you.
There's so much to be grateful for when someone makes the choice to show you a private part of themselves: You get the opportunity to bear witness to someone's inner world, they've trusted you with that information, and this process of sharing is both an indicator of the strength of your relationship and something that has the potential to make it stronger.
If there's one thing to take away from The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, and all its other various iterations, it's that vulnerability is something to be cherished and met with gratitude. This isn't to say I think every contestant says their "thank yous" with authenticity (many don't, and frankly many leverage their sob stories for Brownie points—don't be like those people!), but the habit itself is one to emulate.
Especially within a relationship, saying "thank you" in response to your partner's emotional openness is a great way to encourage them to feel comfortable sharing with you more and more in the future and a way to directly assign value to the intimacy they're creating by doing it.
Kelly Gonsalves is a multi-certified sex educator and relationship coach helping people figure out how to create dating and sex lives that actually feel good — more open, more optimistic, and more pleasurable. In addition to working with individuals in her private practice, Kelly serves as the Sex & Relationships Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a degree in journalism from Northwestern University, and she’s been trained and certified by leading sex and relationship institutions such as The Gottman Institute and Everyone Deserves Sex Ed, among others. Her work has been featured at The Cut, Vice, Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan, and elsewhere.
With her warm, playful approach to coaching and facilitation, Kelly creates refreshingly candid spaces for processing and healing challenges around dating, sexuality, identity, body image, and relationships. She’s particularly enthusiastic about helping softhearted women get re-energized around the dating experience and find joy in the process of connecting with others. She believes relationships should be easy—and that, with room for self-reflection and the right toolkit, they can be.
You can stay in the loop about her latest programs, gatherings, and other projects through her newsletter: kellygonsalves.com/newsletter