It’s a rainy Wednesday night in New England, (what else is new?), and I’m thinking about the fullness of my work and the emptiness of people’s lives. Once again, I’ve had a number of encounters with couples who wrestle with disappointments, aggravations, insults, and disconnects in their daily interactions with eachother. I am witness to painful stories, and often fights about who was the bigger culprit. Couples are often so graphic about the misery of their partnerships that I will ask them why they hang on, what keeps them in it? And they look at me like I’m clueless and tell me there’s a bigger picture of love and joy and basic respect, and how did I not see that? Now I understand that the therapy context is skewed towards problems, and their solutions, and there’s a bias that it would be a waste of time to sit with a stranger and pay her good money to reminisce about fun times. But I think the Complaint Position is also emblematic of our times– we so seldom stop to “smell the roses”. We’re all so rushed and overbooked and stressed, we don’t notice the things we could be thankful and joyful about. We particularly don’t appreciate our life partners the way we should. We read about keeping gratitude journals, and about maintaining a thankful mindset, but it gets lost.
Here’s a useful (albeit slightly morbid) Gratitude Practice I invite couples to use as needed:
Imagine your beloved has been hit by a truck and you are called to the Intensive Care Unit to their side. The doctors have told you there is not much time left, that your partner is not expected to make it, and that you should say your goodbyes. What do you imagine you will be feeling and saying about your life with them? What neglected truths will you want your partner to hear about what’s in your heart? And if you find yourself praying to whatever your concept of God is, what will you be promising to do if you are given a chance for more time together?
Now backtrack the scene to the present. No fatal crash. Your aggravating partner is alive and well and by your side. Here’s your second chance…..