Recognizing Partners and What it Takes to Keep it Going Strong

Image of Sarah McVanel's wedding with Mark and both sets of parents Today is my wedding anniversary. Yep, 24 years ago, on a boiling hot day, I married Mark, the man I am fortunate enough to still love and cherish dearly to this day. I know I lucked out.

“Love and reason have never been well acquainted.” Nina de Gramont, author of the novel The Christie Affair

This quote resonated with me. After all, I was a baby (18) when I decided I wanted to marry Mark, and we married four years later before we even finished university (“hey, it would probably make sense to get married this summer rather than next, don’t you think?”). Nina de Garmont, there is truth to what you write; I’m just grateful I was on the right side of that luck.

Lucky…And You Make Your Own Luck

To counterbalance luck, we had to put in much effort over the years, particularly when life threw more at us than any marriage could manage. I remember in the early 2000s. I was brought to my knees with postpartum depression. I was also dangerously sick after my second child (I was advised it’s not safe to have more children.) All the while, my mother-in-law was fighting cancer, and crushingly, we lost her. We were drowning in debt. We had two jobs, no hobbies, and even less sleep.

I recall this time as being one of extreme: love and loss, highs and lows, gifts and goodbyes. Sometimes I wonder how we made it to this day.

I can remember days – when I let hopelessness and pity get the upper hand – when I wondered if we would.

Recognition truly has been our true north.

I’m not just saying that. Recognition saved us.

image of Sarah and Mark on their wedding day kissing under an archWhen recognition has been lacking in our marriage – complaining, judging, criticizing, taking-for-granted – we’ve been in the most trouble. When recognition’s been highest – complimenting, apologizing, helping, listening – we’ve been our strongest.

Yes, it was easier to recognize when times were lighter; however, it wasn’t only in the highs when we dished out appreciation (just like sometimes, in those highs, we took each other for granted).

Notice I didn’t talk about “our happiest times.” Happiness has too many external variables to set this as our relationship goal. Recognition is an active and actionable approach to nurturing our relationship; we have total control over it.

When we feel appreciated by people who matter to us, it’s a grounding, fortifying force that can remind us we’re liked, loved and supported enough to be okay because we are worthy.

I’d be the first person to say you don’t need a romantic relationship to be happy, fulfilled and healthy. We do need relationships of various forms that make us feel valued. If you are in a romantic relationship, you deserve to feel appreciated.

The words we use have become a gauge as to if we’re doing okay in the relationship recognition department:

  • I am sorry
  • I didn’t mean to
  • I appreciate it when you
  • I really like ____ about you
  • I have fun with you
  • I want to do ___ with you
  • I feel better talking to you
  • I love you

image of Sarah and Mark looking surprised when finding a message in a bottle on the shore of Ireland on their 20th wedding anniversaryBTW, the first two are called “repair attempts,” and they’re unassuming recognition super words in relationships. (You can read more in my all-time favourite relationship book, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John Gottman, Ph.D.)

Did I miss any relationship recognition words that are your go-to’s in your closest relationships?

And how can you bring even more recognition into your closest personal relationship? Who will be the first to notice when you do? What impact will it have? What will the benefit be for you and them?

Luck, love and recognition. A powerful combination for relationship wellbeing.

Here is a pic of our fam today (below); Mark (52), me (46), Justin (19) and Simonne (17.) The pic of Mark and I surprised above is on our 20th wedding anniversary trip to Scotland where we found a message in a bottle; yes, an actual message in a bottle!

The bottom line is this: we’re perfectly imperfect individually and collectively; however, I can say, with absolute certainty, that we’re stronger when we forever recognize (each) other’s greatness.image of Sarah McVanel and her family standing in front of a red barn wall

For more resources about maintaining, repairing and improving relationships, check out these previous blog posts:

“There is more hunger for love and appreciation in this world than for bread.”

– Mother Teresa

Deb Rakonjac

Organizational Development, Purolator Inc.

"Sarah nailed it!  She worked with the planning group to learn about the organization, the audience, the desired key messages and integrated it seamlessly into her keynote. Her energy was contagious! We received rave reviews of this portion of our event and Sarah was able to speak to all members of our organization in a way that motivated them to recognize others everyday. Our executives were extraordinarily pleased and integrated FROGging into their recent board meeting. Purolator is grateful to Sarah for dropping the pebble and we continue to see the ripples from this session across the organization. Working with Tami was phenomenal and the supports were easy to integrate to ensure the session went well. Thanks to you both!!"
Douglas D Swift

President & CEO, Swiftco Inc.

"I have had the Sarah experience in numerous settings: As a keynote, around a table with several other business owners, one on one over coffee, chatting with others at a conference reception, dining with a small group of colleagues. No matter the setting you always get the same Sarah: engaging, attentive, interested, inspiring, motivational, genuine. And always with an infectious smile. Do yourself, your company, your association a favour. Get the Greatness Magnified (Sarah) experience. The payback is priceless."
Judy Kucharuk

Director, Marketing and Special Events, Encana Events Centre

"Funny, full of energy and incredibly motivating – all words to use when describing Sarah and her passionate stage presence. We were fortunate to have Sarah join us as a speaker for Spark Women’s Leadership Conferences and her presentations about leveraging greatness hit the core of our objective at SPARK: “A rising tide lifts all boats”. I would not hesitate to recommend Sarah to other organizations that are searching for a well-prepared, well-organized, thoughtful and passionate storyteller."
Shelley VanVeen

Learning & Development Manager, Libro Credit Union

"Sarah brought so much energy and enthusiasm to our International Women’s Day event at Libro! Her message was uplifting, thought-provoking and truly appreciated by our team. Dealing with Sarah was wonderful – she was open, professional and willing to work with us to customize her message to incorporate our culture and connect to our topic and participants. During the session, she was a pro with a powerful message and a fantastic delivery. We had wonderful feedback from all that attended and can’t wait to have Sarah back for another session in the future!"
Sylvia D’Intino

Executive Director, Community Living Hamilton

"THANK YOU so very much for leading the engagement activities today! You’re a constant professional, with an amazing attitude and always seeing the great in everyone. I am grateful for how you have helped us this year to transform our in-person staff recognition events into virtual and on-location events. Our staff feel more inspired, appreciated and motivated after they hear you speak, and I know our amazing in-house team here looks forward to designing engaging appreciation events with your support."
Melissa Chaulk

Manager of Professional Development

Canadian Dental Hygienists Association

"We work hard at CDHA to give our members a wonderful conference experience, so we were thrilled to have received resoundingly positive feedback on Sarah's opening plenary keynote. It was the highest attended of the entire conference for both dates!"
Jamie Campbell

Director, The Center for People in Organizational Development, Sheridan College

"Smart, challenging, innovative, committed, dependable, and reliable, I highly recommend her for all your recognition needs. I have brought Sarah into my last two organizations to help build a culture of recognition and celebration. The focus on appreciation is more important now than ever."

Some of the Great Organizations We Serve