A study published in the journal Personal Relationships has suggested how just a little display of gratitude between spouses is the key to improving a marriage. It is not just one study, rather several that have found such levels of effectiveness of gratitude in one’s marriage. According to Dr. Katia Sol in her Tedx talk on gratitude, The Gottman Institute, renowned for their work on marital stability and divorce prediction, found that the number one predictor of success in marriage is the level of gratitude the spouses express to one another.
What does gratitude, Shukr شُكْر, really mean?
- Linguistically: It is that which is apparent (هو الظهور).
- It is taken from when the Arabs used to say (شكرت الإبل). “The camel has expressed gratitude,” meaning, the camel ate a lot of good food so it grew and it was apparent on it the effect of the food it ate.
- Technically: It is when the blessing is apparent on the one it is bestowed upon (ظهور النعمة على العبد).
And there are three pillars to correctly be grateful and had we not fulfilled all three pillars then we would not be considered truly grateful for that blessing:
- Internal: sense, feel and believe that you have been blessed. You simply do not take that blessing for granted.
- Verbal: express your appreciation verbally, especially to the bestower.
- Physical: express your appreciation physically by utilizing that blessing in a pleasing way to its bestower.
Indeed, Allah is ultimately the Bestower of all blessings but remember that He uses certain beings to facilitate for you these blessings. Hence, Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) said: “مَنْ لَمْ يَشْكُرِ النَّاسَ لَمْ يَشْكُرِ اللَّهَ” “Whoever is not grateful to the people, is not grateful to Allah.” [At-Tirmidhi].
Diving deeper into each of the 3 pillars of gratitude:
1) Internal: Sensing the blessing:
Do you recognize your spouse as a blessing? Do you feel and believe that your spouse has done any good to you?
Please realize that sensing and believing that we have been blessed with a specific blessing is the first step towards expressing true gratitude. Without it, our verbal and physical expressions of gratitude become very much ineffective and insincere.
But how can we sense that we’ve been blessed, that someone is a blessing in our lives?
Use the technique which Allah has taught us in the Quran to be grateful towards Him where He said:
- “…وَاذْكُرُوا نِعْمَةَ اللَّـهِ عَلَيْكُمْ”
- “And remember the favor of Allah upon you…” [5:7].
Start recalling the good that person, your spouse for the purpose of this article, has done for you. Recall all the blessings that have been brought to your life because of Allah and then your spouse.
Disclaimer: You know best what good your spouse has done to you and what they have sacrificed for you. However, provided below are some examples that may be applicable to some married couples and you can customize examples of your own to help you maximize the benefit of feeling and sensing the blessing of having your spouse.
Realize how Allah described the relationship between husband and wife and how it is one of Allah’s signs and miracles which you should ponder upon; Allah said:
“وَمِنْ آيَاتِهِ أَنْ خَلَقَ لَكُم مِّنْ أَنفُسِكُمْ أَزْوَاجًا لِّتَسْكُنُوا إِلَيْهَا وَجَعَلَ بَيْنَكُم مَّوَدَّةً وَرَحْمَةً ۚ إِنَّ فِي ذَٰلِكَ لَآيَاتٍ لِّقَوْمٍ يَتَفَكَّرُونَ”
“And of His signs is that He created for you from yourselves mates that you may find tranquility in them; and He placed between you affection and mercy. Indeed in that are signs for a people who give thought.” [30:21]
Yes, my respected brother and sister, give it some thought…
Your spouse knows you inside out, the good and the bad. Allah described the spousal relationship as:
“هُنَّ لِبَاسٌ لَّكُمْ وَأَنتُمْ لِبَاسٌ لَّهُنَّ”
“They are clothing for you and you are clothing for them.” [2:187]
Remember my brother, the good your wife has done to you and perhaps to your children and family; carrying your child for so many months, multiple times! To some and perhaps to you, it is she who takes care of the house, cooks, cleans and spends more time than you with the children. Have you truly appreciated her efforts?
Brother, it is true that your wife has shortcomings but so do you and so does she have good qualities. Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said:
“لاَ يَفْرَكْ مُؤْمِنٌ مُؤْمِنَةً إِنْ كَرِهَ مِنْهَا خُلُقًا رَضِيَ مِنْهَا آخَرَ”
“A believing man should not hate a believing woman; if he dislikes one of her characteristics, he will be pleased with another.” [Muslim]
Remember, brothers and sisters, how the spouse is the purest source of having the sexual desires fulfilled in the most permissible and pleasing way to The Creator whereas others struggle and go as far as committing a major sin. May Allah guide and forgive those who do.
Remember my sister, how much of your husband’s life is spent providing a livelihood so you and the children can live with as much of your needs fulfilled as possible. or perhaps remember his contributions to the home: when he mows the lawn, or takes the trash out or wakes up at night when the baby is crying.
Sister, Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said:
“لا يَنْظُرُ الله إِلَى امْرَأَةٍ لا تَشْكَرُ لِزَوْجِهَا ، وَهِيَ لا تَسْتَغْنِي عَنْهُ”
“Allah does not look (with mercy) at a woman who is not grateful to her husband when she cannot live without him.” [As-Silsilah As-Ṣaḥīḥah].
Brothers and sisters, it is very critical that we spend some time recalling the good our spouses have done in order for us to feel and sense that we have been blessed.
Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, the greatest husband of all time, was grateful to his spouse and recalled the good she has done even after she has passed away! It was narrated in the collection of Imam Ahmad how Prophet Muhammad ﷺ would frequently remember and then praise his wife Khadijah (may Allah be pleased with her) after she has passed away. He would recall the good she has done to him and say: “She believed in me when the people have disbelieved. She assisted me with her wealth when the people refrained. And Allah has blessed me with children through her when He refrained me from getting children from other women.”
Do your best to make it a habit to recall the good your spouse has done to you especially when things are not going too well.
2) Express your gratitude verbally: Thank you! Merci! Gracias! May Allah reward you with goodness!
William Arthur Ward said: “Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.”
When was the last time you sent a random text to your spouse saying how much you love them and thanked them for their support and existence in your life? When was the last time you walked slowly towards your spouse without them noticing and gently wrapped your arms around them and said: “I am so blessed to have you.”
Please, do not say the following, implying there is no need to verbally express your appreciation: “Well, my spouse already knows that I love them and appreciate what they do.” Regardless, we need to verbalize these feelings. A man was with the Prophet ﷺ when another man passed in front of them, the man with the Prophet ﷺ said: “O Messenger of Allah! I love this man.” The Messenger of Allah ﷺ then asked: “Have you informed him?” He replied: “No.” He said: “Inform him.” He then went to him and said: “I love you for Allah’s sake.” He replied: “May He for Whose sake you love me love you!” [Abu Dāwūd]
If that was Prophet Muhammad’s advice to two companions then isn’t our spouse even more worthy of hearing such words?
Prophet Muhammad ﷺ did not just make it clear to his wife, Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her), that he loves her but he would not shy away to let the people know how much he loves her and how much she means to him had he been asked. Amr ibn Al-As (may Allah be pleased with him), the commander of the troops of Dhat-us-Salasil, asked Prophet Muhammad ﷺ: “Who is the most beloved person to you?” Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said: “’Aisha.” Then Amr asked: “From among the men?” Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said: “Her father.”… [Al-Bukhari)
Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said:
“مَنْ صُنِعَ إِلَيْهِ مَعْرُوفٌ فَقَالَ لِفَاعِلِهِ جَزَاكَ اللَّهُ خَيْرًا فَقَدْ أَبْلَغَ فِي الثَّنَاءِ”
“Whoever some good was done to him, and he says: Jazaka Allahu khairun (May Allah reward you with goodness) then he has done the most that he can of praise.” [At-Tirmidhi]
Indeed it is painful when our “Thank you” and our “Jazakumullahu khairun (May Allah reward you with goodness)” is mostly said to strangers, friends and neighbors but rarely to family members.
Be sure to express your thanks with beautiful words on a consistent basis. If our spouses are shocked and start questioning our intention when seeing a text message from us with an emoji of a kiss or a flower then possibly that is a sign that we do not do it often. However, it is never too late to begin such a beautiful practice, in shaa Allah. If you are not in the habit of expressing your gratitude verbally to your spouse then try applying the following tip: add to your calendar a reminder that says something along the lines of, “Give Thanks to (Insert your spouse’s name)”. Time the reminder to appear on your phone screen at a time when you are about to get home from work or so. Upon seeing it and entering the house, you should know what to say ; be sweet and creative. Keep such reminders and continue to tweak them until it becomes a habit of yours to always verbalize your gratitude.
3) Express your gratitude in action! The Epitome of Gratitude!
A man would tell his wife: “I love you” and in return she’d say: “You are a liar.” He asks: “Why would you say that!?” She says: “Because I do not see it.” He then sarcastically asks: “Do you want me to write it on a board for you or text it so you can see it?” She finally clarifies and says: “I do not see it in your actions!”
Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said:
“مَنْ آتَى إِلَيْكُمْ مَعْرُوفًا فَكَافِئُوهُ فَإِنْ لَمْ تَجِدُوا فَادْعُوا اللَّهَ لَهُ حَتَّى تَعْلَمُوا أَنْ قَدْ كَافَأْتُمُوهُ ”
“Whoever does you a favor, then reciprocate”, and if you cannot, then supplicate for him until you think that you have repaid him.” [Abu Dāwūd]
Seek to give back to your spouse for the good they’ve done to you. For example, did your spouse cook you a meal? If yes, then why not cook them a meal in return? Would you destroy the kitchen if you attempted to do so? Then invite them to their favorite restaurant, not yours. Once again, seek to find examples that best fit your marriage for maximum benefit. At minimum, we need to include our spouses in our prayers!
The epitome of gratitude is when we utilize a blessing in a way that is pleasing to the bestower. Allah said about the family of Dāwūd: “اعْمَلُوا آلَ دَاوُودَ شُكْرًا ۚ وَقَلِيلٌ مِّنْ عِبَادِيَ الشَّكُورُ” “Work, O family of David, in gratitude.” And few of My servants are grateful.” [34:13] Of the best ways to thank your spouse for a gift they’ve given you is to utilize it in a way that is pleasing to them.
I will end with this story: As I was teaching a weekend class on gratitude and began talking about gratitude between spouses I noticed an older gentleman starting to cry. The more I spoke about that specific topic and mentioned reasons of why one should be grateful to their spouse, the more he cried! At the end of the class, on Friday night, that brother came up to me in tears and started to thank me for sharing the Prophetic teachings and scientific research on the importance of showing gratitude between spouses.
The next day of the class, on Saturday, I saw him again. During our break, after the first session of the class, he requested to speak to me privately. He started to explain to me his marital situation: he and his wife have abandoned each other for three months, sleeping in separate rooms, hardly communicating with one another and when they do communicate it mostly ends up in a fight in the presence of their children. As a result, he has decided to divorce his wife very soon. However, he told me that after last night’s session on gratitude he felt that he has been a very ungrateful husband and that he only focused on his wife’s shortcomings and overlooked some of her great qualities and the good she has done to him and the children. So he approached his wife that night with a sense of remorse and apologized over how ungrateful he was towards her. He shared with her what he has learned about gratitude and wished to always have an attitude of gratitude. He started expressing his gratitude by verbally recalling some of the many great things she had done in the past and is still doing for him and the children. In return, his wife was very touched by his words, accepted his apology and was regretful for her shortcomings as well. They had a blessed and emotional night after they had reunited once again since three months ago. He said that they woke up the next day feeling very happy and rejoiced. He freshened up and was very impressed at how his wife took good care of herself and how she prepared a delicious breakfast for the family. As I was hearing this great news I could not help but hug the brother tightly with tears of joy and thank him for sharing such great news as I was very happy for him, his wife and children. He too got emotional, teared up and informed me that his wife and children are going to come soon to attend the remaining talk on gratitude, God-willing. Upon their arrival, he introduced me to his family and they expressed their appreciation for learning such content and how having such attitude of gratitude makes one’s life meaningful.
My favorite part of the story is when he called me after perhaps weeks after the class ended and expressed how his family has been very united since and how blessed they all feel to have such an attribute of gratitude. I pray to Allah that He keeps him and his family steadfast and to grant you and I this attitude of gratitude towards people, especially our spouses.
 The power of thank you: UGA research links gratitude to positive marital outcomes https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2015-10/uog-tpo102115.php
 لسان العرب Lesan Al-Arab by Ibn Manthur