Jorge's relationship advice is based on experience and observation. Let his trial and error be your success (hopefully).
Yes, Relationship Gratitude Can Make a Difference!
Relationship gratitude can not only improve the way you feel about your relationship, but it can also have many rippling effects that improve other areas of your life. It can even help you solve some recurring relationship problems as a side-effect, without necessarily having to address them directly.
How is that possible?
Sometimes the Problem Isn’t Actually in the Relationship
Often, our relationship challenges come from within. We are resisting something in ourselves that we project onto others, and it messes with our ability to focus on what makes us feel good about our relationships.
I’ve certainly done this before myself, especially when I was younger. I tried to change people or complain about how they didn’t fit some ideal image of mine. I tried to blame my feelings of frustration on other people or on society as a whole. You could say I was experiencing the opposite of gratitude!
As you can imagine, that didn’t help things. It was a trap that I had built with my own mind.
Once I was able to change my perspective and pay more attention to the things I was grateful for, I was able to escape some of these vicious cycles. My relationships began to improve. Whether a specific person stayed in my life or not, my life as a whole became more fulfilling when I lived it from a perspective of gratitude.
So how exactly do you use gratitude to improve your relationships in this way?
What Does Gratitude Mean?
Before we do anything else, let’s be clear. You have to become keenly aware of what you want to be grateful for. This is extremely important.
Many times, we’re in denial of what we truly want and try to force ourselves to like or tolerate things that we don’t really want deep down. That’s not what we’re going to do here. That will just make you resentful. Gratitude isn’t about pretending that we like what we actually hate.
Instead, the key is to consciously focus on the things you honestly want and appreciate in a relationship, rather than trying to fight what you don’t want. We are spending our energy on amplifying the good rather than resisting the bad.
Gratitude means making the effort to notice and bask in what we love about a situation already, especially things we might otherwise take for granted.
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Think of Your Life and Relationships as a Garden
Imagine you are picking out the things you like from that garden. Imagine you are choosing to water and tend to the plants that grow the fruit you love the most. If you were to spend all your time trying to fight the weeds instead of watering those plants, your plants would die and all you would have left would be herbicide-resistant weeds!
Just like a garden, aspects of your relationship grow or shrivel up depending on where you place your attention. Your attention will amplify the parts of your relationship that receive your focus. In time, these parts will begin to outgrow the weeds.
Focus on the things you love, and those things have a much better chance to bloom. That is one simple way to look at gratitude.
Why Is Practicing Gratitude Important?
Practicing gratitude is important in a relationship because we can easily forget what made us fall in love with our partner in the first place. Over time, we can fall prey to patterns of negative thinking, pouring much of our energy into “fixing” the relationship’s problems, only to end up losing the enjoyment we once felt.
Has that ever happened to you? Were you deeply in love with the person, but then slowly all their annoying mannerisms rose up to the surface? Maybe you moved on to another relationship, thinking this would fix it, and then the same thing eventually happened with the new person.
It Helps You Focus on the Positives Instead of the Negatives
Every person will have both positive traits and negative traits from your perspective. Every person will fall short of perfection. If you look for flaws, you will find them! If you focus on the flaws enough, then they can become all you see in the other person, even if they have plenty of good in them.
It Keeps You From Unknowingly Pursuing Negative Goals Together
There’s another reason why gratitude is important: Even if you would never think anything negative about your partner, a couple that doesn’t practice positive focus or gratitude together may end up unknowingly joining their energy towards a negative goal without realizing it.
For example, maybe you both complain to each other about the job market and reinforce negative feelings about your respective careers. It may make you feel like you’re bonding because you both understand each other’s frustration, but helping each other be defeatists is not the best way to build a better life. It affects your ability to grow together because you’re helping to keep each other trapped in old patterns.
To grow more effectively, employing gratitude as a couple is the way to go.
The Benefits of Practicing Gratitude in a Relationship
Gratitude practice in a relationship has many benefits, including:
- Holding onto a sense of joy and contentment long past the initial infatuation period.
- Learning about each other and what the other person finds most important in life.
- Reinforcing and supporting positive habits in each other that may have been hard to keep going on your own.
- Growing closer through a shared experience.
- Feeling both more attracted to and attractive to your partner because you are amplifying the things that you like in each other.
How to Practice Gratitude as a Couple (3 Tips)
Practicing gratitude as a couple can take many forms. You can do it in a casual way or in a more structured way. You can focus on the relationship itself or simply the goals that you have as a couple.
Regardless, consider applying the tips below to make the most of it.
1. Find a Method That Works for Both of You
Find a way that you both like. There are many ways to do a gratitude practice, and just like any positive focus technique, not all methods will work for everyone.
The best way to figure out what works for you is to experiment. Here are a few ideas you can try.
- Start a gratitude journal. In a gratitude journal, you simply write about what you’re grateful for that day. It can be a list or stream-of-consciousness. You can even do it in a diary-style exchange if you want to read each other’s grateful secrets!
- Wake up every morning and tell each other what you’re grateful for. It’s kind of like Thanksgiving, except first thing in the morning and your turkey gets to live another day.
- Write love letters to each other every week. Write letters to each other detailing what you appreciate about the relationship. Leave them around for your partner to find.
- Do a 30-day gratitude trial together. This can take many forms. For example, you can spend the next 30 days refocusing whenever you are dwelling on a negative thought. You can reinforce each other by “catching” when this happens and gently reminding the other person to focus instead on something to be grateful for in the situation. (Obviously, the key here is "gently." Otherwise, you’re complaining about complaining!)
- Do something you both love every single day, even if it’s small. This helps remind you that you have positive things in common with your partner. It’s one thing to mentally know where you align with each other, and it’s another thing entirely to live those things you have in common. A relationship is a living thing.
- Decide on affirmations to do together. Verbal affirmations (where you repeat a phrase that helps you focus on what you want) work for some people and not for others, but they're worth a shot. Come up with some affirmations to repeat every day that help you focus on what you’re grateful for.
- Listen to uplifting music. Music can relax you or uplift you without the need for words. It can put you in a more appreciative state of mind, especially if the lyrics are positive.
- Read books that focus on gratitude. Read or listen to books with a positive message that will help you feel more grateful. Simply reading books about gratitude practice techniques will put you in the mood to be more appreciative of life. Listen to some audiobooks in the car if you find that you don’t have the time to sit down with a physical book.
- Listen to guided gratitude meditations together. There are many free meditations available on YouTube and similar sites that will help you get in touch with love, appreciation, and gratitude.
- Hang out in nature together. Nothing evokes feelings of gratitude more than the natural abundance we are given freely on Earth.
2. Consistency Is Key
As with any practice that is meant to train you towards positive focus, consistency is key. Gratitude is a habit, and like other habits, daily repetition is what will mold your brain into automatically looking for things to be grateful for.
If your life kind of sucks, this may not be easy at first because you may see a lot of things in your relationship (and in your daily life) that you don’t like. Often, it can be hard not to focus on lack and negativity in the beginning, since we’re taught by society that we need to constantly search for problems to fix. We’re also taught to put energy into our problems and ignore what is going right (since it’s already “fine”).
Try to Accept Your Partner for Who They Are
But relationships aren’t things that you can always diagnose and “fix” in this way. They are simply too complex. Even if you succeed in getting your partner to behave the way you want on the outside, there are many complicated factors rolling around beneath the surface.
Instead of trying to change your partner all the time, experiment with accepting them for who they are, including their flaws, and focusing on what you love about them.
Remember That It's Not All About You
On a related note, one of the best ways to really get to know who they truly are is to get into the habit of asking them what they appreciate, too—not just about you, but about every aspect of their life. This is the real them.
A person’s true self is not their resistance to what they don’t want, which is often what you see on the surface; the genuine clues to their true self are found in what makes them excited about life. So pay attention to that every day!
3. If Your Partner Is Hesitant, Start on Your Own
All right, so maybe your partner is not into this hokey, feel-good, hippie nonsense—or, at least, that’s what they think gratitude practice is. Maybe they’re the type of person who claims to be a “realist,” which is to say that they think it’s more realistic to pay special attention to the negative stuff and ignore the stuff they’re grateful for.
That’s totally fine. You can’t force someone. The same rules apply here: Ignore the temptation to resent them or see them as a grumpy old coot, when you could instead focus on what you like about them.
Start a journal or a gratitude practice where you talk to yourself about everything you’re grateful for, including your partner. You may wish to share what you’re doing with your partner or not, but sometimes it’s more fun to keep it a secret. If you want to push things further, you can even resolve to gossip positive things about your partner to other people.
Avoid the Urge to Embellish or Fake Contentment
Of course, don’t make things up or pretend you like aspects of them that you don’t. If your partner is terrible about washing the dishes, you’re just going to sound sarcastic to yourself saying, “Oh, isn’t it great that my partner is so tidy?”
Some schools of thought that instruct on positive focus or manifestation will encourage people to do this, but I disagree. It has to feel true to you in order to be most effective. If something doesn’t feel true, try something else.
The words themselves don’t matter. Find a practice that allows you to get into the headspace of being grateful. It doesn't matter how weird or silly it is. Ask yourself, "Does this work for me?" If so, this is the right practice.
How to Start a Gratitude Practice
If you still feel a little confused (or a little awkward) about where to start, the easiest way to start your gratitude practice is to simply make a list right now.
Don’t overcomplicate it. Just get a piece of paper and start writing down things that you appreciate about all your relationships with others, especially your romantic partner. Later, you can show the people you’re close to if you want, but for now, have a quiet moment with yourself.
Examples of Gratitude
Here are some gratitude examples to get you started.
- What are some things you’re grateful for in nature that you can see outside your window? What are some things you notice about your relationship with nature?
- What are some things you can’t live without that are perfectly free and that you take for granted every day? For example, many modern amenities would apply.
- What are some coincidental things that had to happen for you to meet your relationship partner, otherwise you would have never known each other? Can you feel grateful for those?
- What are some values that your parents instilled in you that you reap the benefits of now?
- Who are some people you can rely on no matter what? What are some times they helped you out?
- When was the last time someone gave you something unconditionally?
- Can you list some more things in your life that came from someone else’s unconditional love for you?
- Write about a time when you did something for someone else without expecting something in return, but you ended up benefiting unexpectedly anyway.
- Think about your partner’s best trait and how it has benefitted you throughout the relationship.
- Think back to the things you first appreciated in your partner that made you fall in love with them.
- Do you have any pets? What are some things you love about them?
These are just examples, so use whatever applies and ignore the rest. If you find that anything triggers negative emotions in you that make it too hard to feel grateful, move on to another topic.
You don’t have to make yourself feel grateful for something or someone when you’re genuinely not feeling it. In fact, that’s counterproductive. Instead, pay attention to what you are actually grateful for.
Make space and time for yourself to focus on your gratitude practice—whether alone or with a partner. Think of this as a training session. Over time, you will see the habits that you create in that time spreading into other parts of your life!
How Gratitude Changed My Relationships
Positive focus in general helped my relationships a great deal, and not just my romantic ones. There are many ways you can resolve to be more positive, but gratitude practice is a great method because it helps you start right where you are.
And if it worked for me, chances are good it could work for most people, since I was a terrible cynic when I was younger. Almost all I could see were the things I didn’t like in other people. And I used to blame circumstances or society for many of my frustrations in life.
The Most Important Effect of Gratitude: Revealing Our Ego’s Little Secret
Years later, I realized part of the reason for my cynicism and lack of gratitude was because I actually wanted other people to be terrible.
Other people being terrible made me secretly feel good. It meant that I was better than someone else. My ego was secretly pleased when someone else was wrong, even when it negatively affected me.
Sounds completely insane, right?
That’s because it is. Unfortunately, this form of insanity is common. Almost everyone does this to some degree, and it can take a toll on our relationships.
If you feel like you’re struggling to dismiss cynical thoughts (especially about your partner) and having a hard time feeling more gratitude in your relationships, this may be the culprit. You may very well be getting some pleasure from the idea that other people are terrible, and your ego doesn’t want to let that go!
Gratitude Is the Power to Change
This is how being more grateful helped me in the end. It didn’t just improve my relationships, it also helped me end self-defeating habits that lived inside me. It helped me let go of my tendency to blame others.
If I knew for a fact that I could make myself feel better by focusing on the things that I was actually grateful for instead of dwelling on what I didn’t like, why would I waste my time criticizing others? What power could they possibly have over me?
This realization was also sobering because it meant I had to take responsibility for my inner state. No one else could do it for me. It took a long time to accept this, but eventually those inner changes became outer ones as well.
Positive Manifestation in Relationships
Over time, I found that when I focused on a person’s positive traits, often they seemed to actually change for the better. Sometimes even simply ignoring the traits I previously thought were negative would have the effect of diminishing them. (Whether this was a “real” external change or only a change in my perception, I don’t know. But it hardly mattered, since I experienced an improvement just the same, even if it was just my imagination.)
Even for those people who didn’t change, I found that I no longer cared so much about their antics. It became easier to simply see them as silly or mistaken instead of malicious or evil. I was much better centered and so it was harder to disturb me. Some toxic people even ended up organically disappearing from my life altogether.
Practicing gratitude helps bring the right relationships into your life. These are the relationships that align with your truest self.
When you’re in a state of gratitude, you tend to attract other people who appreciate life for what it is. (It's almost like you're using the law of attraction to manifest compatible relationships.) You also naturally repel toxic people without even having to pay any attention to them most of the time, which is a nice side-effect.
© 2021 Jorge Vamos