What Do You Appreciate About Your Partner?
This time of year, there is a lot of talk about gratitude. I love that we are having this conversation and it makes me sad that we don’t extend our appreciation of this practice to other times of the year. Gratitude has also become a buzz word and when that happens, we hear it but it doesn’t really land anymore. It becomes part of the noise in social media that we scroll through without much thought.
Someone recently recommended a 2-part podcast by Tara Brach about rewiring our brains for happiness and freedom. I listened and loved the simplicity of the episodes and the reminder that we get to choose how we show up in any given context. Our brains are flexible. Just because we have gotten used to a behavioral pattern or way of being does NOT mean we are stuck with that pattern forever. However, it takes intention and practice to shift how we respond to our emotional triggers.
In the podcast, Tara Brach suggests that one of the ways we can do this is by keeping appreciation and gratitude at the forefront of our minds for 15 seconds at a time. This sounds so easy AND we all know how distracting life can be sometimes. I recently practiced this on a walk with my dog. We turned a corner in our neighborhood and the light was coming through the trees in such a beautiful way. Normally, I would see this and feel moved briefly and then notice how my dog is tugging her leash or remember I’m cold or think about my schedule for the day. But this time, I practiced noticing the light, the leaves rustling in the breeze, and the open feeling in my heart at the sight of something so magical. I noticed the way my eyes became misty and how thankful I was to live in a quiet, safe neighborhood and have the opportunity to walk my sweet dog each morning. This short pause primed my brain to have more gratitude throughout the day. Instead of choosing the busy, well-worn mental path, I chose the slower one that took more effort to navigate.
I think about how this applies to relationships, too. We can have the best of intentions in appreciating our favorite people and then we become overwhelmed and distracted and fall into our old patterns of feeling frustrated or annoyed. When we bring this energy to our partnerships, it’s difficult to create connection, trust, and safety. It’s important to be intentional about what we are cultivating in our partnerships. We can get so used to our normal route that we forget to appreciate what we have the opportunity to see every day.
The truth is, the things that most annoy you about your partner are probably the things you enjoyed most about them in the beginning of your relationship. Their quirks have morphed into irritations. Do you remember what it was like when you appreciated those aspects of their personality? When you would laugh or feel giddy or think they were cute? Somewhere in your partnership, you stopped appreciating this part of them. The only thing that has changed in this way is you. They are probably doing the same thing they’ve always done.
A few years ago, my partner and I saw a couples therapist who encouraged us to consider what we would miss about each other if one of us were gone tomorrow. It was a difficult exercise to engage in (because who wants to even think about something so intense), but it was important for us to get clear about what we truly appreciated in our partnership. It gave us an opportunity to remember what we value about one another that we lose sight of in our daily responsibilities. I use this same exercise in my practice with couples to create a fresh perspective that engages their emotions and reignites their initial positive attachment feelings.
Gratitude can also pull us out of survival mode, especially if our relationship is going through a major transition (or we have young children!). When we can look at a situation with a bit of distance and appreciation (versus being “in it” and overwhelmed), our nervous systems can relax and we are reminded that we are doing more than surviving in this moment; as exhausted as we are, we are observing the life we have created, full of imperfections and surprises. We GET to have this life. That shift in perspective can change how we approach each task—even the things that are less pleasant.
All of this being said, you get to have crappy days sometimes. You can be grateful for your life in general AND have a difficult time. They aren’t mutually exclusive. True gratitude isn’t superficial or performative; it’s built into our lives in a way that allows us to fall back on it when we are feeling challenged. It’s a practice that takes effort. What would it be like to notice when you are feeling happy, grateful, satisfied, or supported and focus on that for 15 seconds? To allow that feeling to move through your body and to give your brain and nervous system an opportunity to really experience it before something new comes up?
I would love to hear from you: what do you appreciate about your partner? Your kiddo? Your pet? A family member? Post your response in the blog comments this week!
Wishing you many 15-second opportunities,