One of the most important ingredients in any successful relationship is joy. In fact, there is even a special mitzvah to make your wife happy during the first year of marriage (Deuteronomy 24:5). However, after the luster of the new relationship wears away, and couples seek to improve their marriage, much of the focus shifts to what is wrong and what needs to change. While it is important to directly address the rough spots in a relationship, and this is usually what motivates couples to seek counseling, there are ways to effect change by bypassing the negative in favor of the positive. In some ways, this parallels the fall holidays.

There are ways to effect change by bypassing the negative in favor of the positiveFrom Elul until Yom Kippur, we reflect on what we need to change in order to reconnect to G‑d. It is a serious time, and without a real understanding of how to constructively apply the repentance process, one can easily go down the path of negativity and guilt. This period is immediately followed by Sukkot, “the time of our rejoicing.” We reach the culmination of this process at Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah. It is this impression of joy that we take to sustain us for the rest of the year, as we reenter the world.

The lesson of Sukkot/Simchat Torah is that we can also restore our connection to G‑d through joy. In one sense, it is through joy that we can truly reconnect with our spouse and achieve peace in our home. Chassidic teachings explain the verse (Isaiah 55:12), “For in joy shall you go out and in peace shall you arrive,” to mean that through joy one can leave all difficulties and reach peace and completion.

Joy is a shortcut to connection, even in the midst of the most difficult times. We see this in our everyday family interactions. Sometimes, if my kids are being fussy or are throwing a tantrum, instead of dealing with the negative, I do something silly or try to make them laugh. This immediately shifts the mood and allows us to reconnect. Making time for fun, even to laugh or be silly, is essential to any relationship.

The Appreciations Dialogue

One practical way to infuse joy into a relationship is to express appreciation. While most of us do say “thank you,” we often forget to express our appreciation to our spouse in specific terms. The purpose of the exercise below is to transform the way you express gratitude, to infuse more everyday joy into your marriage. It is called the appreciations dialogue. When I work with couples, I open our sessions with this brief dialogue. While we may say “thank you” to each other throughout the day, this exercise teaches couples to become cognizant of their appreciation for each other, and to develop into appreciative people.

The best way to do this exercise is for each member of the couple to sit down on a chair and face each other. Think about something your spouse has done for you, or something about their character that you appreciate. Now you are ready to begin. Here is an example of what it looks like:

Husband: I appreciate that you made my lunch today.

Wife: You said that you appreciate that I made your lunch today. Did I get you? (Did I understand you correctly?)

Husband: And the reason I appreciate that is that I feel that you care about me.

Wife: You said that the reason you appreciate that is that you feel that I care about you? Did I get you? Is there more? (is there more you want to say about that?)

Husband: No.

Wife: Thank you.

A More Meaningful Thank You

Backhanded compliments with negative implications do not express true appreciationWhile this may seem a little awkward at first, it is a more meaningful way of saying “thank you.” Assuming you even think to thank your spouse for making your lunch, are you running out the door, yelling from another room, or calling on your cell phone? Creating a formal procedure to express appreciations allows both parties to really be present with each other.

Remember that the appreciation must be purely positive. Backhanded compliments with negative implications do not express true appreciation, and can be poisonous to a marriage.. Notice that the husband did not say, “I appreciate that you finally made me lunch today for a change.” By focusing on the positive, couples increase positive energy and return to a good place in their relationship, to their original sense of connection.

Now that you are sitting down, how would you typically respond if you were being thanked for making lunch? “No problem, it was nothing, my pleasure, you’re welcome, sure . . .” Maybe you weren’t even listening. The appreciations dialogue allows you to take in your spouse’s kind words, and to feel the positive sentiment that he or she is expressing. By mirroring back what her husband says, the wife is compelled to listen and not interject, argue, or even belittle her own efforts. If a person is not able to receive the love that the partner is showing, he or she prevents the positive energy occasioned by such interactions and disregards this opportunity to build happiness.

Even something that is seemingly trivial or obvious should be articulated. Besides the aforementioned benefits of expressing gratitude, the benefits of articulating appreciations are twofold. By becoming more conscious, the one sharing the appreciation will experience increased feelings of gratitude towards his or her spouse, and the one on the receiving end will feel good that his or her actions were noticed. Feelings of resentment, or being taken for granted, start to dissipate, and the relationship quickly shifts.

Not only does this dialogue reinfuse joy into relationships, it also motivates change. When one is constantly feeling appreciated, it creates motivation to continue those actions. In our example, the wife may be motivated to make her husband’s lunch tomorrow. Even if it is a daily task for her, she will do it with joy as opposed to resentment.

As we leave the sukkah for the last time, and reenter our homes, may we take the joy of “the time of our rejoicing” and infuse it into all of our relationships.