Love

3 Magic Words That Keep The Best Couples Together Forever

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brunette couple ein woods, he kisses her head, she smiles

You may wonder what the secret to being able to be in a relationship with the same person for a very long time is.

How is it possible to be in love for so long? What keeps that love alive on a daily basis, especially when there are so many distractions, such as children, careers, and money?

Relationship experts have looked at this issue for a long time and have come to the conclusion that one practice, in particular, is the most powerful and effective. It seems to work, almost like magic.

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"I appreciate you"

This simple act of positive attention is what people need most–even more than expressions of love–to function well. In fact, as Gottman has shown, happy couples make positive statements to each other five times more often than unhappy couples.

As people, the most affirming experience we can have is to be noticed, heard and listened to, and understood by those around us.

It stands to reason then, that the important people in your life have the most power to make you feel this affirmation. It also makes sense that the people most important to you are the ones you want to empower the most.

What if you find yourself saying, "My husband doesn't appreciate me" or "My wife doesn't appreciate me"?

Being in a long-term relationship, especially if you've been together for a while, you may feel taken for granted. This is the opposite of acknowledgment.

You may feel that you have been doing more in your relationship and that it has gone unnoticed or been ignored.

Being in a relationship seems like it should be a 50/50 proposition, but so many people feel like they are doing more than their share. After a while, fatigue and resentment can set in.

"Why should I do more in my relationship when my partner doesn’t even know or appreciate what I do?"

So why don’t they know what you do? Because you may never tell them. And why don’t you tell them? Because they never ask? Why don’t they ask? Because they may feel ignored and underappreciated as well.

Break The Cycle of Silence

You may be tired of not hearing anything nice from your partner, and that makes it harder to say anything nice to them as well.

You can get caught in the vicious cycle of silence, withdrawal, and resentment.

"Why should I say 'I love you' when you never say you love me?"

The way to break this cycle of silence may be easier to break than you think.

It starts by communicating some positive feelings to your partner through acknowledgment, the practice of noticing and appreciating something positive that the other person has said or done.

Acknowledgments include what the other person has been doing and what you have been doing and want to be noticed for. 

Principles of behaviorism have shown clearly that what is reinforced tends to re-occur and persist; what is ignored tends to disappear.

So you can create a "cycle of acknowledgment" in place of your cycle of silence by acknowledging each other frequently for things you would normally take for granted, like making dinner, mowing the lawn, doing the laundry, taking care of a sick child, or pet, and so on.

Think of it the way you thank your friends for things they do for you. Why not treat your partner as nicely as you treat your friends?!

Giving Acknowledgment

The best way to acknowledge another person is to let them know an acknowledgment is coming.

"Rick, I want to acknowledge you for something."

Then, let them know what you want to say, "Rick, I acknowledge you for being so gracious to my mother and driving her where she needed to go when she was here this weekend." 

(Avoid saying, "I would like to acknowledge you." Just say your acknowledgment.)

Make sure they hear what you said and feel the acknowledgment.

These sorts of affirmations are very valuable and very inexpensive.

Acknowledgment is not a costly commodity, but we're often stingy with it. Even if it seems like your partner already knows that you care, say it directly anyway.

"You know I appreciate you, of course, don’t you?" may not be as powerful as "I appreciate you!"

Be specific in acknowledging.

"I acknowledge you for being a great person" is not as helpful as something specific they now know you have noticed. 

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There's more to a great acknowledgment, however. It's not just a "thank you." After saying what you are acknowledging, say what it tells you about them that they would do that. Then, say how it feels for you to hear that.

You can practice giving and getting acknowledgment every day, and it will make a huge difference. 

If you can begin to make a habit of taking time everyday for at least some acknowledging, you will find that the backlog of anger and resentment that sometimes builds up begins to shrink.

Asking for Acknowledgement

It may seem difficult to give acknowledgments, but it's even harder to ask to be acknowledged for something you have done.

Once you're practiced in sharing acknowledgments, you might consider asking for the acknowledgments yourself without having to wait for them or hope for them to come from your partner. 

Couples often live their whole lives without ever feeling appreciated for what they do. 

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For example, my father was married to my stepmother for 25 years before he died. He was a very helpful guy and always worked around the house. 

About a year after he died, my stepmother made a comment to me that she had been so unlucky since then. She said everything around the house seemed to be breaking down, and she could not figure out why.

I shared with her that Dad had been doing all that work for 25 years but had never asked to be acknowledged.

I know it frustrated him, but he was just too quiet a guy to speak up.

So the process of asking for acknowledgment is like giving one. You just ask to be acknowledged for something in particular that you did. It may feel awkward or maybe a bit greedy to start with, but remember, it's not a contest to see who does more.

You're both doing as much as you can. It's just a way to be aware of the contributions you are already making.

The appreciation is no less valuable if you ask for it. After a while, it is freeing to ask to be noticed and thanked. 

Celebrating Your New Skills

Using acknowledgments regularly is like physical exercise. The more you make a habit of it the more it works for you. In the beginning, you might want to schedule a time once or twice a week to trade acknowledgments.

Maybe it’s part of a regular date night or a bedtime or weekend ritual.

After a while, you get used to doing it whenever an acknowledgment or request for acknowledgment occurs to you.

Once that hurdle is crossed, it really begins to make communication easier and less threatening between the two of you.

You will likely see each other in a more positive light than before, making it easier to express opinions and other matters of importance.

Don’t forget to mark your progress every once in a while. Plan a special time together to celebrate.

Maybe a day or weekend away or some dedicated time to review your progress and acknowledge not just each other but your "couple" for making it happen. It's not just a victory for you yourself; it is a win for the "team."

Enjoy it!

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Drs. Peter Sheras and Phyllis Koch-Sheras are clinical psychologists who have enjoyed studying and working with couples for more than three decades and have been happily married to each other for just as long. Visit their website for more information.

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