The discipline of thanksgiving

By Jean Fitzpatrick

Rutting season has arrived in the Hudson Valley, and police are warning drivers to keep an eye out for deer who are crazier than usual. Frantic to breed, they chase one another through woods and across meadows, darting out from stands of golden birches, sprinting across winding roads. If you spot a doe, you’d better brake for a stag in hot pursuit. It’s a glorious time. We’re living in a wonderland straight out of Bambi, love busting out all over the forest, the whole leafy world gone goofy.

Remember those days? Remember when you first fell in love and felt an irresistible pull toward your partner, who was surely the most wonderful and amazing creature God ever created? And yet almost as irresistibly, somewhere along the way you came to recognize his or her flaws — the annoying tendency to leave underwear on the floor, to arrive late, to hog the remote. At that point, it can feel as though an early winter has descended on the relationship.

Not so fast. That’s where Thanksgiving comes in. Thanking our partner is one of the most powerful ways to restore joy and closeness in a marriage. I know, Thanksgiving is supposed to be about thanking God: isn’t that the easy part sometimes? Thanking God seems to enlarge us, to remind us we’re blessed. Thanking our spouse, on the other hand, is another story. Lacking a special occasion — a clean garage, a perfect roast turkey, a gift — we often assume our appreciation is unnecessary, or obvious. Or, worse, we keep score: Why should I think my partner? Look at all the thankless tasks I do! Nobody thanks me. Besides, look at all the annoying things my partner does, not to mention the chores he or she doesn’t accomplish. And so on. It’s exhausting. What happened to the breathless joy of the chase?

Well, it’s over. Marriage, like any spiritual path, demands a willingness to open our hearts and the discipline to move beyond instant gratification. The good news is that, like any spiritual path, it rewards us with deep sustenance. Understood from this perspective, thanking our partner becomes a daily practice, a response to ordinary things — for putting in a day’s work, for picking up the kids, for giving a back rub, for buying the groceries, for taking out the garbage, for doing the laundry. We can’t express our thanks enough. Over time, we discover we’re growing closer. Our partner feels special, important to us. We’re filling up a reservoir of good will for the times when we do want to raise concerns. Say thank you several times a day, and there’s no telling what might happen. The two of you might even feel young and goofy again.

Jean Grasso Fitzpatrick, L.P., a New York-licensed psychoanalyst and a member of the American Association of Pastoral Counselors, sees couples and individuals in her private practice. A layreader in the Diocese of New York, she is the author of numerous books and articles on the spirituality of relationships, including Something More: Nurturing Your Child’s Spiritual Growth and has a website at

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