By the time many couples come in for counseling, their relationship goodwill has been depleted. Each partner has made spoken (or unspoken) requests of his or her partner, only to be disappointed time and time again. One partner makes a request, expressing its importance to him. The other partner commits to making the change, only to go back to old habits within a short time. Another expects her partner to know exactly what she needs in a given situation. Her partner fails to meet her need, whether unable to read her mind or unwilling to comply. Each time, disappointment and disenchantment occur creating a snowball effect, growing viciously over time. Before they know it couples can get to a point where they no longer remember why they were even attracted to their partner in the first place. At this point, even the qualities and behaviors they once may have found trivial or even endearing can turn into points of contention.
The first winter David and I were married, I found myself trudging up the driveway in the bitter cold, waste receptacle in tow. I don’t do cold very well. It seems to take very little for me to be “cold to the bone” and forever for me to recover into warmth again. This occurrence had happened several times recently and I found myself grumbling a bit…okay a lot. Thankfully, he wasn’t home to hear my grumblings. Once my frustration calmed, instead of focusing on the occasions when David forgot to take out the trash, I focused on the many occasion on which he did remember. I focused on how hard he works at the university, our practice, and our home. I focused on the pleasure he brings into my life. For all these things, I felt sincere gratitude and I was able to overlook his forgetfulness on that cold morning. Since that time, I have found myself frustrated for various reasons, some trivial and some significant. Before resolving any issue, either within myself or with David, I have found it most helpful to invoke gratitude for David’s presence in my life.
Similarly, we express gratitude for small acts of kindness on a daily basis. While we have both settled into some distinct responsibilities within our household and business, our approach to day to day duties are a bit more casual. Therefore, we are quick to notice when day to day tasks are completed by the other. We are also quick to show appreciation for these acts of service. Approaching the day to day tasks in this way allows each of us to see every task as our own responsibility. There is no score keeping. We realized early on that if, god forbid, something happened to one of us, the person who was left would have to take care of everything by him or herself. This outlook allowed us to view every act of service completed by our partner as a bonus, rather than his or her responsibility. We are grateful for bonuses and make this known on a daily basis, quite often several times a day. It’s also important to notice and express gratitude for attempts. David or I might not always complete tasks up to the other’s expectations, but we are quick to express gratitude for the effort.
When you have the mindset of experiencing and expressing gratitude for your partner’s qualities and behaviors, you unconsciously begin looking for things to be grateful for. As a result, you will are more likely to notice even more of your partner’s positive attributes and behaviors. Your partner is also reinforced and will make more of an effort to help and please you. When this is reciprocated in the relationship, the results are exponential. Relationship goodwill is maintained or can be restored.
By Trish Carter, LIMHP, LPC, BCN