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Watch Out for Appreciation Deflection in Your Relationship

communication habits Mar 29, 2023


If you've read The 80/80 Marriage, this newsletter, or any book on relationships, you know about the power of appreciation.

It's a relationship tool validated by a vast body of scientific research.

It's easy to do.

And its impact is nothing short of game-changing.

A single appreciation for your partner can turn even the most tense exchange into an opportunity for connection and intimacy.

But there's also a hidden trap when it comes to appreciation.

We call it appreciation deflection. Here's what it looks like in real time.

Partner 1: "Thank you for all the time you spent with Junior yesterday helping him edit that term paper. You completely changed his attitude toward the assignment. It was kind of amazing!"

Partner 2: "It was easy, really no big deal."

Let's unpack what just happened. Partner 1 offered a heartfelt appreciation. Partner 2 replied the way many of us do by minimizing and downplaying their contribution.

It's a subtle deflection, one that sounds like, "It was easy," "I didn't do anything," or "It was no big deal."

To be sure, there's something virtuous about such responses of humility. But there's also a hidden vice. These self-minimizing phrases disrupt the upward spiral of appreciation. They can also leave the partner expressing appreciation feeling frustrated and misunderstood.

Appreciation deflection can, in other words, turn this powerful ritual into yet another source of conflict and tension.

How can you avoid this trap?




1. Take it in.

Appreciation deflection isn't just about the words. It cuts deeper. What's really going on here is a subtle energetic deflection of connection and love. 

To break this pattern, try allowing yourself to really take in your partner's words of appreciation. Give yourself permission to savor this rare moment when your partner is thanking you. 

Sounds good, right? But for many people, it feels extremely uncomfortable to take in appreciation. This isn't the way many of us were taught to respond to words of praise. It can feel strange, edgy, and unnatural.

If this feeling of discomfort arises, see if you can just allow it to be, without trying to manage or get rid of it. 


2. Change your response.

When we deflect appreciation, we make ourselves smaller, all so that we can remain comfortably within the norms of modesty and humility.

This kind of response might win you points in a cotillion class, but it's probably not going to win you points with your partner.

What's the alternative? You probably don't want to go to the other extreme by saying, "Yeah, you're right. I'm a freaking parenting genius, aren't I?"

Instead, there's a middle way here. All you have to say is some version of, "Thank you. I really appreciate that" or "Wow! That means a lot. Thanks babe!"

These responses are honest. They're clear. And, most important, they help you receive the full impact of your partner's appreciation.

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