“I’m grateful that you were open and honest with me last night in our conversation. And that we can have those type of conversations.”
“I'm grateful that I have a wife that finds passion in her career. It brings light and peace to her and our family.”
“I'm grateful that you seek truth and harmony. It brings out the best in me and makes me want to be a better person.”
Sandwiched in between the “just reminding you to get all weather insulation” “I have to work a little late. Can you drop off the girls” “I bought bread and eggs and snacks for kids. So don't buy anything else for the family” and “the tooth fairy may want to pick up some stuff” messages were the precious life-giving notes of gratitude. These words may never have been written just like my marriage that had been drowning for years may never have surfaced had we continued on the same path.
Like a ship in distress, submerged in the choppy waters of life, it felt as though we sailed off course. For years we were depleted, exhausted, and disconnected. Many times I held my breath before going under, wondering if I would surface on the other side, alone. Our hardships were not any longer or more challenging then what other couples encounter. Through the pain, though, I simply just stopped. I stopped breathing, I stopped trying and I nearly stopped believing that I would rise above this drowning state.
Having endured depression and anxiety (both of us), watching my mother die after battling a rare cancer at the beginning of our parenting journey, experiencing the trauma of our six year old being hospitalized with an unknown illness in a foreign country, and feeling the pressure of financial difficulties, we felt weighted down by our “issues” and life’s challenges.
I see now the challenges were there not to submerse us into a state of despair, but to provide the vessel in which we could learn and grow. And I realize we were never off course - each experience, each trauma, each pain had its own internal GPS embedded, allowing us to recalibrate and reconnect to what matters most.
What was important was what we were choosing. Were we choosing frustration or understanding? Love or pain? Joy or despair? Anger or peace? Lack or gratitude? In our state of disconnection from ourselves and each other, we spent far to much time expressing our unmeet needs, reminding the other what it was that was missing. We were far too often coming from a space of lack, rather than feeling the fortune of what was present and available to us, which only served to be like a dead anchor causing us to sink even further.
So in the midst of yet another intense and challenging time, I decided to tune the GPS once again and point its direction on gratitude. Paying attention to gratitude has been a life changing practice for me (see wrap yourself in gratitude), however I had never made it a focus within my marriage.
After a particularly heated conversation one hot day in August, I turned to my husband and said, in a rather forceful tone, “That’s it. That’s enough. No more focusing on what we do not provide for each other. We are going to focus on what we do. For the next eight weeks, we are going to express, share, and write down our gratitude. Specifically what we are grateful for about each other. Oh and it’s going to be a competition.”
“A competition?” he asks looking confused.
“Yes. You know how I like competitions.” I respond matter of factly.
“What do you win?” he asks intrigued.
“The status of being the most advanced soul.” I state, cracking a grin and releasing the heaviness we felt the moment before.
For the next several weeks we wrote notes of gratitude and shared with each other what we appreciated about the other. These words of thankfulness in between the everyday mundane messages became like bookends, leaving me feeling supported and held in love.
One particular note became a buoy that pulled me out of the darkness, the grief, and the pain that surrounded me this summer. “I'm grateful for a wife that cares so deeply for the ones she loves. She is true to them, she has empathy when they are suffering. She pours her love into them. They need the love and empathy. They need her. She is their mother, wife, lover, cousin, or friend. However, this leaves her feeling empty at times. But she knows this, and knows it will pass. She is wise.” It not only helped me surface, but it let me know I was seen; that what I was feeling and experiencing was witnessed with love and understanding.
What began as a friendly little competition became a life saving practice for our marriage, fortifying it to weather future storms. Simple expressions like “I'm grateful for you bringing your lighthearted playfulness in our work yesterday” pulled us up and out of a drowning state and let us float, even if momentarily, among peace, harmony and love.
In the sometimes turbulent waters we encounter in life, connecting to and expressing gratitude can be a life preserver. Whatever it takes, share your gratitude with your partner, even if means making it a fierce competition. In fact, why not give it a try. You’ll be surprised what may come of this duel.
To that I add:
May the gods be ever in your favour. And may the enlightened soul win!
“I'm grateful that you have done the work and can now say sorry to me when you are in the wrong. This has really been a blessing to me. I no longer worry if you will shut me down to save your pride. In taking responsibility for your actions it was made me look at you in a kinder and gentler light. I know you are becoming a better person each day. And each day you work hard at it. Thank you for that.”