by Ana L. Palles
Whether we’re looking for, leaving or navigating our way through, relationships consume much of our attention and emotional energy. Many of us yearn for the companionship, affection, friendship and intimacy that comes as part of the package in the majority of relationships. Particularly powerful relationships even become deep, spiritual unions. But often, we come across many people caught in a cycle of anguish and doubt, wondering if the relationship they are in is worth continuing, unsure if there is real substance in the relationship, or if it is only fanciful illusion.
Many are simply torn because of the investment they have already made in the relationship. The time they have spent together and the time that looms up ahead. History is hard to walk away from, particularly when we look back and can generally see good times scattered in with the pain.
If children are involved, we worry about breaking up the family and disrupting routine, holidays, finances and tradition. If passing middle age, we worry about our age, our bodies and whether we will be able to find another partner.
For some of us, it is about hope. We hope that we can make a difference. We hope that somehow, by standing true in love, they will come to realize that choosing one path leads to happiness, while the other leads to a wearing away of the individual and the relationship. We hope that we are strong enough and wise enough to find the balance between healthy, loving support and the destructive victim/rescuer.
Relationships are at once strong and fragile, like a piece of fine crystal. They can withstand enormous pressure and adversity, and yet, wrong choices could result in shattering the beautiful creation. While the occasional chip and repair work is to be expected, some damage can be so devastating it cannot be restored.
Unfortunately, epiphanies rarely come on command and many find themselves at a crossroads, wringing their hands and attempting to peer into a hazy future. Underneath it all, like an underground river that thrums the ground under one’s feet is the question, does this man or woman love me? Do I love them?
What is illusion and what is real?
It seems that our friends always know the answer to this question. They take one look at the object of our affection and tell us point blank – forget him, he doesn’t deserve you, forget her, she’s using you. There is no shortage of relationship advice. And many times they are right.
But who we love is based on such a complex mix of factors for each person, that even if our friends have our best interests at heart, and the man or woman is really not deserving of our time, we struggle with our inner conflict. Did I misunderstand him or her? Do they want to deepen the relationship? Do they want us to go away? If I’m pretty enough, sexy enough, smart enough, will all my questions disappear? Do they love me? Do I love them?
And of course, that is the question because we want to be loved and we want to love back. How can we figure out whether the relationship we are considering, or the one we are currently in, has good potential for happiness? Experts, advice and self help books on the subject abound, but if I could boil it down to just one word based on my own observations of happy relationships it is this: gratitude.
Happy couples are grateful for one another and are generous with their affection. They say thank you to each other and mean it. They are consciously grateful for the blessing that this person represents in their life.
Happy relationship partners notice those subtle little demonstrations of love. Simple tokens, like bringing their beloved a hot cup of tea or coffee as they’re first waking up, or taking over a chore so that their loved one can get a little extra rest. It is living each day expressing, “I am so glad you are in my life” and recognizing the fact that love is a miracle. It is gratitude. And not only are they able to express their appreciation for their partner, but they are also able to receive that same gratitude from others for the gift of them.
But this is not easy for everyone. Some people have a hard time valuing themselves and because they put up obstructions, blocking their ability to receive appreciation and love, experience great difficulty valuing others as well. Sometimes they are so locked up they try different ways to disengage, and can come across as miserly, opportunistic and even arrogant. Sometimes, of course, they have been this way for so long, that they can actually become miserly, opportunistic and arrogant. None of these are particularly useful traits if your goal is happy, healthy relationships.
My friend Steve is a good example of someone who understands the power of appreciation. He regularly acknowledges his partner Karen for her staunch support, her friendship, love and gift of laughter.
When we go out to dinner and we’ve had a particularly good meal, he asks to speak to the chef so that he can thank him and shake his hand. I don’t know who beams the brightest, Steve or the chef. And every time we chat, whether on the phone or via email, he always throws in a heartfelt thank you for being in his life. He appreciates the people around him and has the courage to let them know. It makes him a very distinctive human being.
My dad was a wonderful example to us growing up. He would tell my mother each day how beautiful she was and how lucky he was to have married her. Yes, each day. He died young, but I always remember how bright his eyes would get and the love that radiated from him whenever he looked at my mom.
When my friend Kathy and I go on retreat, she runs down to get us coffee first thing. She brings me a steaming hot mug which I sip with sincere appreciation. The love and care that she takes in preparing that cup fills me with deep gratitude for our friendship.
My friend Dan greets me each time we meet with a big, bright smile, a tight, warm hug, and a loud kiss on the cheek. He boisterously expresses his joy and value of our friendship – of all his friendships. He is open hearted and sincere, able to accept, so he’s able to give. He makes my day whenever I see him.
All of them express their gratitude. They see their relationships as blessings and make sure the people in their lives know that they are valued. When you feel valued and treasured, you have the ingredients for happiness and confidence in your relationships. Even if just for the good it will do your own heart, stop and show your gratitude.
Here are three quick tips for Expressing Gratitude
Just Say It
If you knew that today would be the last day you would ever see this person, wouldn’t you want to tell them what they meant to you? It doesn’t have to be a romantic deal. Just tell them how much you appreciate them being in your life and you wanted to say thank you. There, that wasn’t so tough, huh?
Stop and Assess
Sometimes we don’t realize that our loved ones are shouting at us how much they care through their actions. This is often true for men who get embarrassed or tongue-tied expressing emotions. Stop for a moment and look at the other person’s actions. Are they going out of their way for you, giving up their own comfort? Are they bringing you little gifts or forwarding fun emails? This shows you are on their mind. Make a note, smile, and say thank you.
When disagreements arise, take a moment to ask yourself why the other person is reacting the way they are. Perhaps they are unreasonable, perhaps they are not. We all have perfect storm moments, tension at work, our pet is sick, the car got a flat tire, you had a long commute. You could have rightful anger at the other person’s behavior, it’s important to give the person safe space to cool off. Initiate a discussion when you’re both ready, remembering that this is a person whom you care about and value. Don’t try to get back at the person by punishing them; this can cause a lot of damage. They are not a pet who wet the carpet or an errant child who refuses to wear his bike helmet. Gratitude and respect walk hand in hand.
I know a man who immediately diffuses arguments with his fiancée by spending some time on reflection and then calling to tell her that whatever the problem, they will work it out together. Disagreements cause distance and he tells her he loves her, the best thing that ever happened to him and he misses her terribly. He demonstrates that he values and appreciates her even if they don’t always agree. Brilliant man.