Being Grateful In Love, Even When It Sucks
“Appreciation gives depth to acceptance: ‘I admire you; I delight in you; I prize you; I respect you; I acknowledge you and all your potential. I appreciate you as unique.’” – David Richo, “How to Be an Adult in Relationships: The Five Keys to Mindful Loving.”
So this week in our adventures of following the self-help book, How to Be an Adult in Relationships, B. and I are on to the third of the five “A’s” – Appreciation. My favorite so far, since it’s essentially expressing gratitude, a notion I’m a little obsessed with. As a cancer survivor, in the last few years, pre-newish boyfriend B., I’ve been very deliberate about cultivating gratitude; it’s been an essential element to my recovery and remission. Many studies suggest that being grateful can do everything from lower blood pressure to dramatically increase happiness. And, as someone who’s beaten some serious odds, it feels like the least I can do is thank the universe. It also keeps me from slipping back into sweat-the-small-stuff mode. The regular blog I keep of gratitude lists reminds me to appreciate all I can wrap my heart around, even – and especially – when I want to bust out the whine.
Gratitude is also a super-important part of a good relationship. The ratio of appreciation to complaint is five to one in couples that stay together, writes Richo, citing the work of psychologist John M. Gottman at the University of Seattle. That means one gripe about the dishes in the sink per four warm-and-fuzzies like “thank you,” “I love you,” “you’re so funny,” and “this is delicious.”
Not always so easy. Yet it’s pretty essential to actively make space for appreciation, even – and especially – when you’re not feeling it. And even when you are. To demonstrate, here’s a list of what I’m grateful for right now in my relationship with B. No matter what you’re feeling about your partner or your life, I really can't recommend this exercise enough for creating openness, lightness, and a sense of sincere, buoyant love – even when there’s a sink full of dirty dishes.
I am grateful for:
1) Openness. When I showed B. that I had bought this book, what I abashedly called “self-help porn,” he pulled out his iPhone and said, “I want to read it too,” clicked over to the insta-Amazon thing and bought it. Granted, a sliver of that was about iPhone fun, but for a connection junkie like me (as in the human kind), that shit is wayyy better than diamonds.
2) Shared pleasure. He came to a show of this yoga chant music I love. And he danced. And liked it. A lot.
3) Chocolate sex. Like most of us, so many of the things I end up being grateful for in a relationship are the result of a comparison – as in, “My ex would never have done that.” Well, I’m a little conflicted about those moments (they’re not very present, comparing is a bit unfair, etc.), but there it is, the being human thing. And so, here’s a biggie: My ex often said he only liked “vanilla” sex – a point of deep frustration for me during the time we were still having it. But with B., well, he likes his frozen dessert vanilla (which I will never even pretend to understand), but everything else – with flay-vah.
4) Cooking. Curry, breakfast potatoes, pasta, and allegedly shrimp scampi. So good.
5) Processing. When I bring up a concern, instead of being like, “It’s not a big deal” or “I wasn’t doing that” or “I have no idea what you’re talking about” or “calm down,” the man stops and listens. I’ve yet to see him hold a cranky or defensive stance for more than 30 minutes, which is cool. Very cool.
6) Eye contact. There’s this tantric practice called tratak, or trataka, (“fixed gazing” in Sanskrit), which involves essentially meditating into your partner’s eyes. It’s deep, naked eye-gazing in which you do your best to remain open to seeing and being seen, fully. The idea being greater possibility for powerful soul connection and love-exchange. Homeboy doesn’t know his trataka from his flokati, but he’s a good gazer.
7) Women appreciation. He loves his sisters. And they seem to love him. My mom has always spoken with admiration of “men who like women.” Which might seem like a given, but as any woman who’s dated a closet or overt misogynist knows (hint: he hates his mother and/or begins sentences with “women always…”), it’s a rare, beautiful treat when a dude truly adores the feminine essence, in addition to the feminine attributes.
8) Chivalry. Gulp. This one is hard to admit – I was a women’s studies minor, lived at the Womyn’s Center, and still proudly, loudly call myself a feminist. But I love a man who opens doors. A man who’s protective in a non-creepy way, a man who prefers to pick up the check (but will let me do it once in a while). Call me a cauldron of contradiction, but after many years of feeling my alpha-like personality dominating a relationship, I adore feeling like the girl. It’s hot and powerful to let go and let prescribed gender roles rule.
9) Shared sense of humor. He gets my way-corny wordplay. He makes me laugh with his. And as my stomach hurts because I’m hooting so hard, I'm washed in relief waves of getting and being gotten.
10) Appreciation. I adore being adored and adore that I’m with a man who verbally adores me – it’s nourishing on a level way beyond the ego-boost. One of my favorite poems, “St. Francis and the Sow,” by Galway Kinnell says this so well. An excerpt: “The bud stands for all things/even those things that don't flower,/for everything flowers,/ from within, of self-blessing;/ though sometimes it is necessary/ to reteach a thing its loveliness,/ to put a hand on its brow/ of the flower/ and retell it in words and in touch/ it is lovely/ until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing.”
For that I say, thank you.