Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds. ~ William Shakespeare
First the science of appreciation: John M. Gottman, PhD, the country’s foremost relationship expert, found that what set apart marriages that succeeded (as opposed to the 67% of first marriages that ended in divorce) was a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative interactions. He found that even the smallest gestures of appreciation counted—a smile, a pat, a “thank you.” This magic ratio isn’t confined to marriage. The same principle applies to all relationships.*
Here’s my favorite tool for injecting some quick positive energy: Appreciation Loops. You can use them any time you like, in any relationship, without dependence on the moods or actions of your partner. You can feel a shift in the dynamic immediately.
Appreciation loops follow this formula: Take a moment to say to your partner, “What I appreciate about you is…” and fill in the end of the sentence. Honesty is crucial. Try this without planning or even knowing where your sentence is going to end. See what comes up.
The magic of this practice lies in its independence from the other person’s action. Your appreciation is not contingent on your partner’s behavior. You are not saying “I would appreciate you if…” Nothing is more powerful than not trying to change the other.
Instead, appreciation works like a circuit breaker to interrupt negative cycles: “We interrupt this regularly scheduled unhappiness to focus on the positive!”
Notice how challenging this can be in the middle of conflict and insecurity. What becomes possible when you face your partner and say “What I appreciate about you is…”? When you change your focus to the positive, your world changes.
Using this tool when the relationship is already thriving is like building a bank account to draw on later.
Beyond ideas of right-doing and wrong-doing there’s a field. Will you meet me there?
Try the appreciation formula on three relationships:
the relationship most important to you at this moment,
the relationship that needs it the most right now,
and the relationship that needs it the least.
*This practice is not intended to “fix” a toxic relationship. Any relationship in which violence, drug abuse, or mental health problems are involved needs assistance from appropriate professionals.
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