Cultivating a Feeling of Gratitude with Your Spouse
Assigning Meaning to Information
The world we live in constantly bombards us with input. Words, physical touch, information, objects, actions, expressions are constantly coming into contact with us. We are constantly organizing and making sense of everything that we come into contact with. How we organize the information is how we make sense of the world.
If we do not organize information, the information does not take on meaning on its own. A person could come home to a house where toys are on the floor, dishes are piled up, homework is not done, kids are playing games, and their spouse is watching T.V. on the couch. All this information, by itself, is meaningless. The toys being on the floor, simply means that there are toys on the floor. It does not mean anything until we assign it a meaning.
How we assign meaning to our surroundings will influence if we cultivate an attitude of frustration or an attitude of gratitude. Most people have lives that have disproportionately good things occurring, rather than bad things. In a typical day, things go well most of the time. When something bad does happen, it is often that one bad thing that we focus on. If 1 bad thing occurs and 99 good things occur, we would typically call that a “bad” day. This is especially true with the 99 good things are common every day occurrences in our lives. We could, just as easily, focus on the 99 good things that occurred, and call that day a “good” day.
If two people are given the same input of information, they will organize and understand the information differently. A group of adult children, describing their childhood, will all describe their upbringing very differently. Two adult spouses will understand and describe their own relationship very differently.
How a person chooses to organize and understand information, influences their emotional state. Assigning positive meanings to the incoming information will result in positive feelings, while negative meanings will result in negative feelings. It influences how the person will interpret future words that are received. It will influence future responses.
A person who lives by themselves is autonomous. That person chooses what information is allowed into the home. That person chooses how to understand the information. That person chooses how to respond to the information. The person chooses to respond to the information.
A person who lives with someone else is also autonomous. That person does not control all of the information that is allowed in the home. That person does choose how to understand, interpret, feel, and respond to the information given.
Often our minds are focused on unmet expectations of the future or problems of the past. This type of focus can leave us feeling unsatisfied. When we focus on the bad things that have occurred, we fail to notice the good that we presently have. When we focus on unmet expectations, we might recognize that there is good in our present moment, but we feel that it is not meeting our ideal. This can leave us feeling frustrated.
When we are present in our mind, we focus on what is in front of us. We notice that in that moment, there is a lot of good. A day, or an hour ago, there may have been something bad that happened, but that has now passed. We do not need to allow the problem of the past to taint the good in the moment. Hyper focusing on the problem in the past does not serve a purpose. It does not prevent it from happening again.
Expectations never really occur the way we hope they will. We create idealistic fairy tales in our head about how things should go. We pretend to know that our ideal is being actualized by others all around us and our reality is bleak in comparison. When we focus on how our expectations are not being met, the good in the moment can pale. Focusing on how our sparkling moment isn’t shiny enough, takes the enjoyment out of the sparkle. Hyper focusing on expectations does not help us to achieve them.
When our mind is present, we notice what is going on around us. We enjoy the company of loved ones. We are aware of the good that is going on around us. We notice the blessings that are in front of us. We have time to be thankful for the blessings. We pay attention to the small acts of love and kindness that our family is extending. We allow ourselves to take the time to enjoy them. We take time to extend love. Time feels available. There isn’t a sense of rush to meet an expectation. There isn’t a sense of running away from heartache. A peace settles in your heart.
A Mile Walk is the Result of Steps in the Present
Life is corrupt and bad things do happen. Goals are necessary to make and work toward. Panic and dissatisfaction do not help us reach goals or make preventative measures. Long term goals are achieved by incremental steps that are taken in the moment. The person who creates long term goals and then sets out to achieve them by taking small, but well-polished steps each day, can achieve greater success than the person who, in panic, struggles to banish discontentment by achieving their goal immediately.
The virtue of patience, allows us to be present in the moment and still work toward preventative measures and goal achievement. Patience allows us to take a long-term goal and then break it down into tiny doable steps that can be accomplished each day. One individual step, by itself, can be focused on in the moment while it is being accomplished. It can be enjoyed. Satisfaction from completing the single step in its entirety and perfection can be savored. After completing the single step, there is no need to panic and rush to complete more. The mind can be allowed to rest and turn its full attention to something else that will take place in the present. Another carefully planned step will be accomplished, in the moment, tomorrow. Understanding that an accumulation of perfect steps prevents bad things and accomplishes goals, gives a peace of mind.
It is helpful to understand that we are limited in what we can accomplish in a single day. Since long term achievements are an accumulation of daily steps, focusing on accomplishing a legion of long-term goals can be frustrating. It is can feel more gratifying when we have a very narrow scope of long-term goals that we want to accomplish. This way there is ample time during the day to complete the necessary daily steps that need to be completed and polished in order to achieve the long-term goal.
The Law of Probability
The law of probability is a measure of how things happen by chance. Chance occurs in much the same way, every single time. Sixty percent of the time, life will come at you in a fairly normal manner. Twenty percent of the time, life will be better than normal. Twenty percent of the time, life will be worse than normal.
When we plan our daily tasks, we tend to plan them in a way to maximize time. We plan our day down to the last minute, not allowing for any “wasted” time in between. We often fail to allow for a buffer between tasks. A buffer would be an extra space of time between tasks that will be needed when things go wrong 20% of the time. When we put the extra buffer in our schedule, we are not rushed when things go wrong. We can feel grateful for what we have accomplished in a day, when we are not overreaching and trying to accomplish more than we are able. We feel frustration when our expectation is to accomplish more daily steps than there is time to accomplish in a single day.
Loving the Person Who is With You Now
It is important that we love the person who we are with at the present time. Our minds often drift to mistakes that our partner has made. We focus on the person that our partner was a few days ago, weeks ago, years ago, or months ago. This taints the feelings we can feel in the present moment. We feel pressure that we have to take immediate preventative measures to prevent our partner’s mistake from happening again. We guard ourselves from feeling the pain of our partner’s past mistake. We fail to open up, be vulnerable, and allow ourselves to love the person in the present moment.
Oftentimes our minds create idealistic expectations of how our partner should be. We create scenarios in our mind of what it would be like to be married to someone who meets those ideals. We assume that other people have partners who consistently meet those ideals. We hold off feeling grateful until the ideals have been met.
It is easier to be grateful for our spouse, when we focus on who they are in the moment. When our mind is present, we can enjoy what is happening in the moment. The moment is not tainted by feelings of past hurt or dissatisfaction of future expectations not yet met.
We can be grateful when we assign positive meanings to our spouse’s behavior. We can be neutral in our responses when we do not assign a meaning at all and suspend judgement. When we express gratitude to our spouse for the positives, we feel closer to our spouse. They desire to be closer to us. They gravitate toward behaviors that generate affirmations.
Your spouse will always be growing, just like you will always be growing. If your spouse is a good person, growth will take your spouse in a positive direction. Your spouse will not be able to achieve multiple long-term goals in a single day. Your spouse will be able to achieve a single step toward a limited number of long-term goals. Your expressed gratitude of those daily steps, helps you and your spouse to feel appreciative of the efforts.
In everyday life, there will be 99+ things that your spouse does that is good. These things will be hard to notice because they will commonly occur. There will be 1 or more things that your spouse does poorly. Your spouse will probably be aware of that 1 thing and will be working to change it. Cultivating gratitude for the common positives will help you and your spouse not overreact to errors in behavior.
Left to chance alone, your spouse will perform in an average manner 60% of the time. Your spouse will exceed expectations 20% of the time. Your spouse will fail 20% of the time. Expect this. Plan for this. Do not plan your day, as if your spouse is going to reach their + 20% threshold every single day. This will result in frustration, disappointment, and heartache. It will result your spouse feeling like a constant disappointment.
When you are planning your schedule in your mind about what you are going to accomplish that day, assume that your spouse is going to be at their – 20% range. Assume that is the help you will receive. This will prevent you from being in a time crunch. This will prevent you from building up resentment because your spouse isn’t meeting an expectation in your mind that your spouse was not aware of. When help arrives, be grateful for what comes. If help does not come, you will not be behind in your schedule. If help does come, you will have time left over.
Be grateful for their behavior that is in the 60% range. Be ecstatic about the behavior that is in the +20 range. This will help your spouse feel proud. This will help you cultivate gratitude and feel happy about your life. They will gravitate toward the feeling of accomplishment, because it feels good. When you cultivate gratitude, you will feel happier about your life.