In my previous blog, “Count the Stripes,” I looked at why it is so important to designate clear roles and responsibilities for decision-making in a loving relationship. This week’s blog pivots to the topic of gratitude and looks at the important part its expression plays in our relationships.
A Thanksgiving Message
Once again, the Thanksgiving holiday is upon us. An occasion where many of us gather to feast, enjoy the company of family and loved ones, and give thanks for whatever we are thankful for. It can be and often is an opportunity to be appreciative and demonstrate gratitude.
If your family is anything like my own, you’ll stand in the dining room in an informal circle, and moving counterclockwise, each person will share whatever they are grateful for:
- I am grateful to be a member of this wonderful family.
- I am grateful to have found a new job this past month.
- I am grateful for the grades that I earned this past quarter/semester.
There are many opportunities, gifts, and people to be thankful for in our lives. Yet over the years, I have experienced many people, who share how grateful they are in words, as short-tempered complainers, on many of the days that are not Thanksgiving.
My perception (and it is only a perception) of these individuals started me on a journey—or at least a conversation with myself—to investigate and determine what high-level gratitude looks like. Here is what I discovered.
Losing Sight Of Gratitude
River recently expressed gratitude for Jordan. River went on to say that Jordan was a wonderful partner and could be depended on through thick and thin. River also noted that Jordan was the instrumental confidant who helped guide River to do what was necessary to land a recent promotion at work.
An hour after expressing what appeared to be a deep and sincere level of gratitude for Jordan, River asked Jordan to retrieve a pair of sunglasses from the car. Jordan went to get the sunglasses and inadvertently pressed the buttons on the key fob that caused the car to start. Jordan didn’t realize that the car was on and went back inside. The next day, River went outside to the vehicle and it would not start. After making several attempts to start the car, Jordan noticed there was no gas in the vehicle. After a few minutes of thinking to recall how the car managed to have no gas, River concluded that Jordan must have left the car on the night before and it had run out of gas.
River was angry and walked into the house yelling Jordan’s name. “You’re a real dumbass. You left the car running last night, and the car ran out of gas. What am I supposed to do now? I have a car in the driveway with no gas.”
This is an example of ingratitude. This is not how we treat someone whom we are grateful to have in our lives.
Gratefulness As A Credit
Gratefulness can be considered a credit that we use when we experience an unpleasant emotion directed at a person who we are usually grateful to have in our lives. Gratefulness as a credit compels us to smile at our partner instead of being angry because they have already been of service to us. They have already taken care of us or they have already been a benefit to us.
When we are grateful for and to our partner and have an experience similar to River’s, we may discover the reason there is no gas in the car, laugh, and say, “What a great partner.” We are able to express this happiness because our partner is human and valuable. Valuable enough for us to overlook an error or a “stupid” mistake.
I’m not suggesting that mistakes or errors be ignored. “Jordan, I think, though I’m not sure, that you left the car on last night and we ran out of gas. I’ve got to go to the gas station and get us some gas.” If done well, there will be no air of irritation or contempt in this communication.
How Do You Demonstrate Gratitude?
Here are three pointers to keep in mind if choosing to express deep gratitude toward any person, instead of being content with the occasional verbal expression.
- It’s one side of the same coin.
Understand that an unpleasant experience is simply the opposite side of the same coin as a pleasant experience. Yes, it’s a package deal; we can’t have one without the other. And given that most of us enter relationships (business or romantic) because a partner adds value, they probably have done something good before they have done something we find irritating. If the positive has occurred first, you can be sure that an unpleasant issue will follow (at some point). Hopefully, the positive outweighs the negative, and we can chalk it up to the natural order of things. When possible, smile at the positive and ignore the negative.
- Affirm your partner.
My recent blog, “And You Show It,” implores each of us to affirm our partner and the efforts we notice them making. This can be a verbal expression of gratitude. Let’s tell our partner, “I see the effort that you are making to . . .” Or perhaps, “I know how much you wanted to go to Jamaica for this vacation, yet you were willing to forego your preference for mine. You are kind and considerate, and I appreciate it.” Affirmations are ways we can express our gratitude. These sentiments are important, yet they need to be supported by our actions afterwards. Our gratitude, ideally, won’t stop with these affirmations.
- Smile for your partner.
Let’s smile when we greet, interact with, and are around our partner. Few (if any) physical expressions of gratitude will trump the happiness exuded when we are smiling in our partner’s presence.
All of us have a multitude of issues, layers, and challenges going on in our lives at any one time. It is easy for each of us to suspend smiling when we are home. And at some level that is fair. However, if there is an interest and investment in expressing gratitude toward our partner, let’s smile when we are around them. Let’s smile when we are talking to them. And let’s simply smile because we love having them in our life.
The suggested smiles are genuine, not fake. They are honest, not contrived. They are heartfelt, not shallow.
Make Gratitude An Ongoing Practice
Moving forward, any time we are gathered in the name of being thankful and showing gratitude, let’s also take that opportunity to assess how grateful and appreciative we were being before that gathering. If there is work to do, and there certainly is work for me to do in this capacity, let’s start that work right at that event. “I appreciate what you have done for me, yet I know there are times I don’t show it. Starting now, I will do a much better job of demonstrating an understanding that the bad comes with the good, affirming the beauty I see in you and your actions, and smiling at each of you.”
In my next blog, “Discussing vs. Arguing — What’s the Difference?” we will be talking about how to differentiate between discussion and argument and why knowing the difference is so important to our loving relationships.
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Frank Love coaches individuals toward creating a loving culture in their family. He is also the author of Relationship Conversations You Don’t Want to Have (But Should Anyway) and 25 Ways to Be Loving. To schedule a free consultation, contact Frank at Frank@FrankLove.com.
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