I should be grateful.
Have you ever found yourself thinking these words on the heels of experiencing some negative emotions? Maybe you’re angry with your spouse or going through a tough time in general. You attempt to change your perspective and pull yourself out of your funk by focusing on gratitude instead. It’s a noble cause. After all, we talk about the positive effects of gratitude on this very blog.
The issue arises when we use an obligation to be grateful as a way to tamp down or invalidate other legitimate feelings. Here’s the deal: gratitude is not cancelled out by other emotions. You can be both grateful – and other things, too.
You can be both grateful – and struggling.
Perhaps you’re going through a rough patch in your relationship. Maybe one or both of you are working through anger, resentment, or sadness. You could be navigating a period of career or financial uncertainty. Struggling can mean a lot of things, as these examples illustrate. What they have in common is that it’s often during situations like these that we tend to give ourselves a gratitude check. I shouldn’t be so angry, I should be grateful because it could be worse. Sure, that might be partially true – things could be worse. However, this doesn’t get rid of your anger or other uncomfortable emotions. In fact, it’s often healthy to acknowledge and allow ourselves to feel our feelings, even if they’re unpleasant.
You can be both grateful – and know there’s room to improve.
There are areas of your relationship that could be better. You’re grateful for each other as you are, and you know there’s still work to be done. This is good! Feeling gratitude for your partner and your current state is one way to recognize your strengths and all that you’re doing right. Acknowledging where there’s potential for growth individually and as a couple is a great way hold yourselves and each other accountable while avoiding the rut of complacency. Embrace both feelings. This balance is the key to healthy relationship growth.
You can be both grateful – and striving for more.
Let’s say you’ve worked hard and achieved some big goals together: eliminating your debt, building a business, or raising your family. You’re grateful for where you’re at, and you want to achieve more – for your marriage, your family, and/or yourself. It can feel contradictory, like you’re saying what you have or what you’ve accomplished isn’t good enough. Of course, that’s probably not the case. Allowing gratitude to sit alongside your ambition can help you avoid the trap of feeling unfulfilled and constantly be working towards something more.
Focus on the and with each other.
When you and your spouse embrace the and, you’re not only able to validate your emotions in a healthy way, you’re also able to more accurately understand each other’s nuanced experiences and communicate your own. Consider the difference between saying, “I’m grateful you’re such a hard worker, but I wish you were home more,” versus “I’m grateful you’re such a hard worker, and I wish you were home more.” It’s a small change, but it just feels different, right?
As humans, we feel a full range of emotions, often more than one at once. You can’t eliminate negative ones simply by willing yourself to only feel the positive ones. Conversely, you don’t nullify gratitude by acknowledging other conflicting emotions either. Leaving space for both gratitude and… is one way you can capture the whole big picture, its full context and complexity, instead of just focusing on one half or the other.