This the week where many will travel to be with family. It’s a busy time of year. The roads all congested. Tempers flare. Delays snarl airports. Families rushing about to sit at a long table to have a fun time. Sharing stories. The season of gratitude is here in the US of A.
Most people will recount the amazing times had as a family. Few will think of the issues that makes families have a bit of friction. Mainly because it’s not the season to duke things out. Not that a few have not done so before… or will do again.
Which brings about the question of the day, can gratitude save love? Before answering that question, a quick story that’s been shared many years ago. heard it as advice being given to someone else
Gratitude conquered all
Maria was tired of her husband George. They argued about everything. They fought over everything. It was getting so bad that Maria was worried that her former soldier husband would one day show her one of his lethal choke holds he bragged about.
Being the praying woman she was, she asked her prayer warrior friends for advice. During one of their many chats, one of the women said her marriage was saved by adopting a spirit of gratitude.
Having had tried everything else and was convinced her love was not going to win over her husband, she gave this gratitude thing a try.
It involved journaling things she was grateful for in the morning and at night. Being that she was eager to get results, she added doing so at lunch during the middle of the day.
At first, this helped her improve her mood and sense of well being long enough to smile. Then, George would say something to wipe that smile away. Over time, she got to the point where she could find the good in most situations and reclaim her smile.
However, the marriage was still in the pits and failing fast. Her friend suggested that she find ways to stop herself from arguing and ask herself what she was grateful for in the moment. As ridiculous as it sounded, Maria agreed to try.
The next time George started an argument with her, instead of focusing on her rebuttal, she quieted herself and looked for things to be grateful for. The best she could find was feeling grateful he was not punching her as other husbands had done to their wives.
The start of change
At first, George saw the quiet stance as admission of guilt. He pressed his point and drove it home harder. While that made his ego feel good initially, he felt a hollow sense of victory. Maria was not fighting back. Was she giving up on the relationship? Why was she not standing up for herself and advocating for her view?
This worried George a lot. He was used to having vigorous discussions with his family growing up. If one did not fight aggressively for their point, one lost more ground than if the conclusion was to agree to disagree. He liked the fact that his wife was not weak and a doormat. The spirited challenging conversations felt good. Granted, sometimes Maria did go too far and things did break down into damaging insults.
But to George, they were fine. It was just how they handled situations. Now, Maria was quiet. She didn’t say much. Sometimes she sighed. Other times she looked at him with pity. Other times she cried and walked away. But there was no fight in her.
Getting scared he was going to loose his wife, George started to change his strategy. Instead of blasting out in loud boisterous tones, per his usual, he started trying out her strategy of asking questions. It was not easy keeping his enthusiasm down, but he needed to understand what had changed and why his sparing partner had called it quits.
Maria noted with great interest the change. Not sure if they were real, she just kept adding new things to be grateful for in her journal. Her goal was to one day just smile at George while he flew off the handle into lunacy. Maybe, in time, he would realize how foolish he was and try something different.
One of the unexpected consequence of Maria’s gratitude journaling was the shift in her mindset. She was starting to look for the good and the possible in all situations. With her focus less on reacting and fighting back, she was able to focus on what potential positive and good there was in various situations. Her eyes started to see more good in things.
She started to notice the good her hubby was doing for the family when he was not mad. She was more aware of how his eyes searched hers whenever he was upset with her. The man was not just upset, he was inquisitive as well. Something she totally missed in her angry responses. Worse, she was starting to sense his hurt whenever they disagreed and she grew silent.
One day, George flew off the handle unexpectedly. The man slipped into his angry attack mode she hated. Sensing he was not yet over his edge, she drew in her breath deeply and repeated one of her gratitude mantras before exhaling.
George, sensing Maria was ready for combat, took a pause to load up his next round of attack. Maria extended her hand timidly towards him as she placed her other hand on her heart.
Confused, George stepped back. What was she doing? Not sure what to do, he looked for clues in her eyes. There was nothing but love and concern written all over her face.
“I’m grateful you care so much about this topic to invest so much energy into it. Help me understand your point of view”
George saw how Maria was shaking with fear. His own wife was afraid of him. He was angry. Felt rightly angered. She had broken one of his rules and he had tried to let her know how much it bothered him to no avail. But this was different. He was her protector and she was shaking with fear about what he was going to do.
That extended hand. Open palm. As if she was reaching for his heart. This was not fair fighting. She was using her emotions to disarm him. This was not right. But she was afraid of him. And that was unacceptable.
George didn’t know what to do, so he stormed out of the room to regroup and re-evaluate his strategy.
As far as Maria was concerned, her spirit of gratitude had changed the entire landscape of their relationship. The dynamics were no longer the same. She felt empowered. Where her love had failed, her gratitude had won! George could be disarmed and the angry loud shouts ended before they started in earnest.
George’s curiosity gets the best of him
A few days later, while sitting at the dinner table, with the kids working on their bedtime routine out of earshot, George leaned over towards Maria. She drew herself back instinctively bracing for an argument. Her mind racing to find something to be grateful for to keep from engaging a fight with George.
“Why are you so afraid of me?” he asked.
Maria was caught completely off-guard. The sensitivity in his voice, the calm in his tone, the worry that flowed over the words.
“What do you mean?”
“You’re scared of me. That’s not supposed to be. What’s going on?”
The two of them go into a long deep sincere conversation. George was blown away. What he thought was natural arguing was being registered as emotional abuse. Worse, Maria thought the marriage had failed a long time ago compared to him thinking it was just now starting to fail.
It took a lot of effort on George’s part to not lash out in anger. He was feeling frustrated and boxed in a corner he had no idea how to escape from. What kept him grounded was seeing how concerned Maria was about their relationship.
So much to take in. So much to process. Sensing panic washing over him, George asked for a break so he could stay calm and process. Maria nodded and mumbled something that sounded like a gratitude prayer.
The power of gratitude.
As the couple continued their chats over time, it became clear to George that the power of the gratitude spirit was just the tip of the phenomena that had changed the course of their relationship.
He gave the system a try to further understand it himself. The test confirmed his suspicion. It’s not so much that gratitude was some magical panacea. The ability to find the good in a situation was powerful skill. It helped him separate the issue from the person. That was the power of gratitude.
It was not “how can Maria be so stupid to leave the heater on blast during the day when no one was home”. Instead, it was “I’m grateful that Maria is thinking of our comfort when we return home… that’s probably why she turned up the heat before we all went to work”.
With that minor shift, George felt less inclined to attack Maria and more open to asking her a verification question. “Did you turn up the heat to warm up the house for our return?”
The resulting dialogue helped George understand that Maria really hates feeling cold in the morning. The extra heat helps her not feel grumpy. Once in a good mood, she turns her attention to other things and does not think of turning the heat down.
With that information, George changed the thermostat of the house. He got a programmable one that allowed the heat to rise a little before they woke up. Maria was now a much happier lady in the morning. He didn’t hear complaints about freezing and insults about being an uncaring jerk. Once they left for the day, the heat was brought down to address his needs to save on heating cost. Then, before arriving home, the house was warmed up a bit so Maria was happy. It was turned down at night so he could stay cool and sleep. Problem solved.
With other issues being tackled from a more loving tone and more open mind position, George found new thing about his wife he had not known before. She was still very fascinating. Her fear of him left shortly thereafter.
His need to argue still remained. However, his motivation to argue had changed. He was looking more for solutions instead of proving his superior arguing skills. It was no longer a zero sum game anymore. Everyone could win.
That made George all the more grateful about a lot of things. To Maria, it was the power of prayer backing up the principle of gratitude that had saved their marriage. To George, it was not the case. But he didn’t have the heart to argue with her. He was just happy that his marriage had not derailed and completely failed.
At her suggestion, he joined a debate team that helped high school and college students learn the art of debating. That addressed his needs to have spirited debates. That took the edge off at home. The home became more a home. Love started to bloom again.
How did gratitude save love?
Love needs to be watered and encouraged. No matter how much one assumes it can last through anything, it does need nurturing. Sharing how much you appreciate someone nourishes their love. Showing appreciation builds love.
The mindset of gratitude makes it easier to find ways to communicate one’s appreciation. The ability to find the good in any situation helps a person feel better about who they’re dealing with in any given situation. As the ability to show appreciation survives the worse and the best, the recipient of gratitude often feels good about having done something appreciated. They may well be motivated to do niceness again.
Gratitude is about showing how much one appreciates what was done for them or on their behalf. It’s not about getting more in return. It’s not about making someone give you more. It’s just saying “thank you”
When love sees that it is appreciated, it feels watered. It feels nourished. It grows. It blooms. It repairs. It does the work it does that makes relationships worth it.
Want to encourage your mind to see the good in situations, find a way to develop your gratitude muscle. If you want to give love a chance to conquer all, fuel it with gratitude so it can do the magical formula it does that wins all.
Please do not assume this is a formula to exploit. Fake gratitude stinks and destroys love. We all know someone who manipulates others through their fake praises to emulate gratitude. Don’t be that person. Be the genuine grateful person. Build up that skill.
George and Maria, for the sake of concluding their story, did continue their relationship just fine. They still had ups and downs. They still had disagreements. But the fights were nowhere near as personal as they once were. There were no more attacks. The joke of the home was that fights signaled gratitude mantras would start flying until they were either laughing or calm enough to resolve their differences.
This holiday season, look into the power of gratitude. We all will see family we don’t usually see all year (for some). Start by sharing something you appreciate about them. Then. Make it a monthly habit to reach out and share something you’re grateful for they’ve done. You just might be amazed how it can well improve your connection to the people you love.
Happy Thanksgiving and keep that gratitude flowing.