Since we’re coming out of Thanksgiving and into all the Christmas celebrations and craziness, gratitude is the perfect topic!
I have a group text message with my husband and our best friends. My husband and our good friend Steven will send articles about politics and other things going on. Often times the articles are negative and about all the problems facing society. I have to admit that sometimes I don’t even want to open those messages because it’s hard to see all the struggles out there.
Well today I had enough. Not because I think Curtis and Steven are doing anything wrong, it’s important to be informed. Yet I want to know more than just what’s bad and sad in our society. So, I got online and googled to find some positive news stories and I sent them in our message. I told the group that my goal is every time they send a difficult news story, I am going to send a positive one back.
My text to them read: “I’m not saying to send less news. It’s just so disheartening to only read the negative. I want to remember that there’s still good too, this is about balance not avoidance.”
It got me thinking about how quickly we do this in life and relationships. Often times we’re so focused on the pain in our relationships that we don’t see the more positive things going on. When we’re in pain our brain will often work to protect us. This can look like focusing only on the pain to try to solve it or avoiding it altogether.
Just like in nutrition, moderation is key to a healthy self. This means balance is key. You neither want to only focus on the struggles of the relationship or avoid them. It’s equally important to acknowledge areas growth is needed and to appreciate the way things are going well.
Too many times we’re quick to move past the small, kind gestures of our partner or the ways they work to connect with us. Gratitude and appreciation are such an important part of a relationship. There may be difficult things going on in your life and relationship but stop, look around and ask yourself what you have to be grateful for or appreciate.
Just like the text messages in my group, it’s not about avoidance but balance. Share the struggles you see in your relationship but slow down and share appreciations too.
In her article “Gratitude is for Lovers”, Amie M. Gordon, examines the role of gratitude in relationships; what gratitude means and how it helps couples. She also goes over times that gratitude isn’t the right choice. So, you don’t even have to take my word that this is important, check out this article and the research in it.
Now, it’s one thing to be told something is important and can make a difference in your relationship, yet it’s more powerful to experience the effects. Here is an exercise to try, it can be down as a couple or individually.
- Write down 2- 3 things you appreciate about your partner or relationship. It can be something they did, said, who they are, or even more general about the relationship
- Ask your partner to sit down with you and while making eye contact tell them the appreciations you wrote
- Ask them not to say anything back right away and to take in your appreciation. Sit with eye contact for 30-60 seconds.
- This is important because people often feel uncomfortable with appreciation even if they want it; there is a tendency to want to move quickly past it. Yet the brain needs time to let it really sink in.
I challenge you to do this 2-3 times a week for 4 weeks. During that time, pay attention to any changes that happen in you, your partner or your relationship.
- Do you feel more connected to your partner?
- Does your partner seem to show up in different ways more?
- Do issues that bugged you before seem less triggering?
If appreciation and gratitude is something you want more of but you feel stuck, contact us for a free consultation and see how we can help.
Stacy Lee, LMFT, has been employed at The Couples Institute in Menlo Park, CA, since 2008. She has trained with relationship experts Ellyn Bader, Ph.D and Peter Pearson, Ph.D. to provide innovative tools to couples and individuals. In 2019, Stacy became the Clinical Director of the institute’s therapy services. She is passionate about providing people with quality resources which includes building a network of skilled therapists to reach more couples and individuals.