couple holding hands

Thanksgiving is not exactly a holiday of romance. A belly full of turkey and potatoes is more likely to inspire a lethargic nap on the couch than a steamy tumble in the bedroom (if your uncle’s tireless ranting on the election primaries wasn’t mood-killer enough). But this time of reflection and thanks (well, theoretically) is the perfect prompt to honor the gifts your relationship brings. A few days before or after Thanksgiving, when you’re not cooking for the Viking horde you call your family, why not take a moment to ask yourself: are you grateful for your beloved partner?

What exactly is gratitude in love?

According to the world’s leading gratitude researcher (yes, there is such a career!) Robert Emmons, gratitude has two vital parts: an “affirmation of goodness” and a recognition that “the sources of this goodness are outside of ourselves.” He summarizes, “We acknowledge that other people—or even higher powers, if you’re of a spiritual mindset—gave us many gifts, big and small, to help us achieve the goodness in our lives.” You might have noticed that Emmons’ research makes gratitude sound more like a choice than a spontaneous emotion. Gratitude can arise on its own, but it can also be practiced by devoting a few moments to reflection.

In terms of your relationship, the first part of Emmons’ idea means that you remember the inherent goodness of your partner. Are they funny, or wise, or especially compassionate? Is their heart so big that they shelter every cat in the neighborhood? Why is your partner a wonderful human being? If you recently got in a squabble (perhaps playing Mother Theresa to the local felines is actually a bit of strain on your relationship), this might be hard to recall. But there’s usually something down there in your heart, if you just give it a minute.

The second part of Emmons’ theory asks, how does your partner brighten your life? Do they make you laugh with silly faces or listen to you vent about your horrible coworker without complaint? What’s changed in your life for the better, now that they’re a part of it?

I have potatoes to mash, do I have to do this now?

Why should you take the time to practice gratitude?  In one scientific study, couples that interacted graciously felt closer and more satisfied with their relationships. And curiously, the giver and receiver of gratitude both reaped the benefits! In another study, gratitude was associated with extra-durable, lasting relationships. Put simply, gratitude is good for your relationship, like a vitamin you can’t go without for long. The third Thursday in November is just a reminder to take your recommended dose! Besides, during a stressful ordeal (such as, well, a Thanksgiving dinner with your extended family), a little gratitude can help you keep your cool with your partner and feel like you’re on the same team.

Okay, fine. What can I do to show my gratitude?

Now that you’re completely convinced that Thanksgiving is actually the second most romantic holiday of the year (after President’s Day, of course—what were you thinking?), it’s time to practice showing your gratitude. When you’re feeling grateful, it’ll come through in everything you do. But if your relationship has been feeling strained recently, going out of your way to make a statement can soothe the tension. Before you run out to buy flowers or crash the local radio station with a broadcast announcement of your love, consider your partner’s currency: the way that they give and receive thanks. For some, it’s words, for others, it’s actions or gifts. When you choose to honor them in a way that appeals mostly to yourself, they might miss the message. Here are some ideas to get you going down the right track:

  • Is your beloved a voracious reader or poet? They might value the written word highest of all. Write this partner a note about why you’re grateful for them. Tell them what specific things they do that matter to you.
  • Does your partner love to be in the spotlight? Give it to them! Make a Facebook shout-out about their phenomenal Thanksgiving cooking (or maybe just their devoted turkey basting, if they’re more fire hazard than Guy Fieri).
  • Presents can do the trick for a collector or aficionado, but it’s important you choose something they want. If there’s an egg slicer they’ve been drooling over, it doesn’t matter that you think they’ve already got one, and it’s called a knife. Gifts of gratitude are about your partner’s personality and desires, not your own.
  • Listen. Really hard. Ask them lots of questions to show how interested you are in their life, and answer compassionately and without judgment. Few things build shared intimacy like true listening.
  • Is your partner a consummate cuddler? Make time to snuggle. For some people, physical intimacy is the clearest sign of love and affection.

You can also use spirituality to develop a keen sense of gratitude for your partner. Almost every religion has rituals and prayers that give thanks. Reciting these in private or with your partner can enhance your bond. The Tarot deck also contains some beautiful reminder of giving thanks, and you and your partner might feel closer meditating on the Two of Cups, in which a pair of lovers raise their full chalices to one another.

However you choose to show your partner that you think they’re wonderful, doing so will revitalize your relationship, or at least ease some of your Turkey Day anxiety. When you have a caring and grateful partner on your side, even an oven belching smoke seems somehow more tolerable.  So this Thanksgiving, consider what small, thoughtful ways you can consciously practice gratitude with your “Sweet Potato.”

Are you unsure what your partner’s gratitude style is? KEEN advisors can help you break through to mutual understanding and appreciation.