You can more easily recall the things your partner has done that upset you than the things your partner does that you appreciate.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – our brains are wired for survival, NOT for happiness. Holding onto the things that your partner has done that have hurt you may be a protective measure. Recognizing negative or toxic patterns isn’t a bad thing – you need to be able to notice if your relationships are healthy. Relationships are not either good or bad – there is good and bad within every relationship. You can acknowledge and address issues while also practicing gratitude.
How to practice gratitude when your partner falls short: Let’s say that one of my partner’s chores is taking out the trash twice a week, and he keeps forgetting. I can handle that a couple of ways. For instance, I can say something like “I can’t believe you keep forgetting – you’ve forgotten for the past three weeks, and it’s absolutely ridiculous.” Or I can approach the situation with understanding, and voice appreciation – “I know this is one of those things that’s easy to forget and I value you taking this chore on – would you mind setting a reminder on your phone to take care of the trash? I’d really appreciate it”. Which one do you think they’ll be more receptive to? Which one do you think deescalates the situation rather than escalating it? Voicing appreciation even in the tough times is the slight change needed to strengthen you as a team.
You find yourself appreciating something only after a loss, scare, or hardship.
They say we don’t know what we have until we lose it. Unfortunately, that’s often the case. It doesn’t have to be that way, though. Back when we were just dating, my partner would cook these elaborate meals for me…often. Of course I would thank him, but I didn’t put much thought into just how much he did for me – the grocery store stresses him out, but he went anyway, carefully choosing the right ingredients for our meals, then returning to his house where he had about seven roommates, cleaning off dishes, pots, pans, silverware…everything that was constantly dirty (because 7 college age guys living in one house) just to have a nice meal prepared for me after I got out of class. After we graduated college and life got busier, he stopped. Initially, I was frustrated. He set a precedent, and it’s what I expected. I didn’t give him the appreciation he deserved. It took me realizing that life looks differently now, and now I can appreciate how he will pick up my favorite food from my favorite restaurant on his way home from work, instead.
How to practice gratitude before you lose it: Thoughtfulness. Depending on the situation, think about your partner’s effort, what your partner is going through, how your partner is feeling, and extend thankfulness for all of the small things and all of the big things. Maybe your partner experienced a health scare – in the past, maybe you wouldn’t have valued those “see you later” kisses in the morning, and now, you hold your partner a little closer. In the famous words of Andy Bernard from The Office – “I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good ol’ days before you’ve actually left them”. Good news – you can value each stage, each moment, realizing that every second with your partner has significance. That way, when each moment or stage is over, you can rest assured that you extending the gratitude that it deserved. Don’t wait until it’s too late to start appreciating your partner.
Your gratitude for your partner is higher when things are going well.
It’s definitely easier to appreciate your partner in the absence of turmoil. When you choose to spend the rest of your life with someone, you choose to accept them fully, committing to growing and learning together as a team. That’s a lot easier said than done – fighting is inevitable.
How to practice gratitude when you’re on the rocks: Your relationship doesn’t have to be on a dichotomous scale of either good or bad – your relationship can simply “be”. The difficulties don’t have to take away from the many amazing moments you experience together. Similarly, you don’t have to allow the value of your partner/ relationship to decrease when troubles arise. Think of your gratitude for your partner as unconditional – this means that no matter what happens, you are just as thankful for them as you were when you were giving your vows, going away on your first trip together, or celebrating a big accomplishment. All of those reasons that you value your partner do not go away just because they’ve stopped doing some of the things you appreciated, because you can’t seem to find common ground, or even because they’ve hurt your feelings. Keep in mind that you can figure things out as a team, and that you chose each other for a reason.
You often hear yourself saying “I want, I need, I wish…” when thinking about your relationship with your partner.
Of course we have needs, wants, and wishes. When you’re constantly focused on what you lack, though, it is impossible to recognize what you have. If I come home from a long day at work and see that my partner did not cook dinner like they had agreed to do, I may miss that they had taken over my chore of vacuuming and had simply lost track of time, or maybe I miss that they lost a sale that day, and needed some extra slack. We can get so caught up in thinking of what our partner is NOT giving us. When was the last time you felt fully satisfied – like you had everything you wanted from your relationship? The big problem is that when we’re in that “want” mindset, it doesn’t ever seem to end. We are constantly looking toward the next thing. When will it ever be enough?
How to practice gratitude when you don’t have it all: Instead, think about what your partner DOES do for you. Allow where you’re at in life to feel satisfying for the time being. Keep working, keep pushing to improve, but appreciate that where your relationship is at now is something you had worked and wished for in the past. At one point, you thought “MAN, if I could just have this one thing from my partner…if they could be better at this…we’d be great”. It’s likely that your partner eventually worked on and improved that thing, but then came the next, and the next, and so on. One thing at a time, friends. We’re never done growing, evolving, and changing. When you spend your time focusing on what you have within the relationship rather than where your partner is falling short, you’re able to give more to your partner, thus allowing you to be a better team overall. Appreciate your season rather than constantly longing for what’s to come.
You lack self-acceptance.
We often hear “you have to love yourself before you can love someone else”. Agreed, but it’s not that simple – relationships are intricate and complicated. To me, it’s more self-acceptance that’s needed. Self-talk is self-talk. If you’re really hard on yourself when you make a mistake, your inner voice will naturally be hard on your partner when they make a mistake. How you view yourself directly affects how you view others. If you view yourself as deserving of love unconditionally, you will be able to extend that acceptance to your partner. If your sense of self-worth is low, you may jump right into the pit of self-fulfilling prophecy, looking for signs that you’re unloved, perceiving neutral or even positive behaviors by your partner as negative. Think of how your partner may feel, then – nothing they do is ever good enough, you don’t appreciate them, you always expect the worse, etc. Gratitude isn’t able to blossom, here.
How to practice gratitude for yourself so that you can find it for others: There are many reasons that we struggle with this. We are often so focused on the next big accomplishment that we fail to stop and appreciate the little things we do every day – the snuggles with our dog, the tasty dinner we made, how we feel in those new pants…we meet things with negativity and criticism, we have extremely high expectations set for ourselves, and we tie our level of self-worth to our productivity. Similar to what I talked about above, we have to step out of this societal need to reach the next big thing, and find appreciation for who we are in every moment, seeking out small joys throughout every single day. We have to believe we deserve those joys, as well. We have to approach unpleasant experiences in a more neutral or loving way – you hit a pot hole and got a flat tire? Don’t freak out – just solve the problem calmly, and move forward with your day. Lower your expectations for yourself. You can’t possibly expect yourself to conquer the world every day, or to be able to master eight things at the same time. Recalibrate your expectations – do your best, and accept that your best is all you can give. Your worth is not linked to how productive you are – if you sit at home all day watching TV, you are not less worthy than you are on the day that you are so busy saving the day that you don’t even have time for lunch. Realize that you are worthy of gratitude, love, and acceptance always.