I spend a lot of time teaching clients that focusing on your partner’s negative traits will only bring more misery and unhappiness. Conversely, focusing on his/her positives will bring more satisfaction and joy. Most marriage counselors know this simple fact because we are taught it. I know it because I lived it.
For years, I was unhappy in my marriage because I had a mental list of all the ways my husband disappointed me. He never planned special date nights or bought me flowers. He didn’t always remember the things I needed him to do, and I’m pretty sure in our 30 years of marriage, he has never surprised me, even once, with a special gift. I noticed how my friends’ husbands treated them to weekends away, while mine was content to hang out at home doing nothing special.
Over the years, my list grew and my disappointment festered. I would pull out the list when we were fighting so I had one more weapon in my arsenal. What an ego boost I gave myself by focusing on what I perceived to be his flaws! And to think I felt very justified in my judgment. I truly believed I deserved better. It makes me cringe just to write it as I can barely stand to remember that woman now. I was self-absorbed. I’d bought into the fantasy version of love and marriage and it almost wrecked my family. Thank goodness my husband wasn’t creating his own list of my flaws. I can only imagine what would have been on it.
Where do we learn what love looks like? Our parents? Our friends’ marriages? Books? Movies? Social Media? I once had a client who had a big fight with her husband every time she saw a Facebook post about something amazing one of her friends’ husbands had done. Of course the same friends didn’t post when their husbands left dirty dishes on the counter or forgot their anniversary, so it fed her fantasy version of love and marriage. If we aren’t careful, we create unrealistic expectations of our partners and expect them to fill all our gaps so we aren’t lonely, bored or dissatisfied. Men do this as well.
Some time ago, I started making a relationship gratitude list and that’s where I discovered what real love looks like. Here are a few things on my list.
- He always puts gas in my car. I haven’t pumped my own gas in more than 20 years.
- When he does the laundry (which is often), he always hangs up my clothes.
- When we return from a trip, he unpacks all our luggage and puts everything away.
- He volunteers to run to the grocery store late at night when I’m having a craving for something.
- Every fall he buys my favorite treat and has it shipped to me. DeBrands chocolate covered apples… Oh my!
- He goes yarn and clothes shopping with me and never complains or grumbles.
- He has embraced my family and loves them. He never acts impatient or put out when they visit.
- He tells me he loves me every single day. Usually multiple times.
- He makes my coffee most mornings and brings it to me.
- He gives the dogs their medicine each day because he knows I hate doing it.
- He loves our boys and is an amazing father.
- He tells me I’m beautiful when I’m in yoga pants and have no makeup on.
He doesn’t expect anything in return and he doesn’t do them to bolster his own self worth. These are the gifts he gives regularly because he loves me, flaws and all.
Two lists. Two perspectives. Same husband. This is real, dependable, lasting love, my friends. It’s not always pretty. It’s often messy. But it’s REAL.
I’ve learned my level of satisfaction and joy is my choice. And isn’t that a wonderful thing really? If it is my choice, I have the power to make myself happy. I don’t have to depend on someone else to do that for me.
My challenge to you is to make your own relationship gratitude list. The longer you focus on your list, the more your gratitude will grow.