At the beginning of each couples therapy session, I ask client’s to participate in the same ritual. With their eyes closed, I walk them through an exercise in which they get centered and present in the moment. They practice mindful breathing, body awareness, attunement to their emotions in the moment, as well as focusing on “mentalizing”, which is a fancy way of suggesting that one can hold the content of their mind in awareness. This sets the stage for the next phase of the ritual, which is to cultivate an atmosphere of admiration and appreciation in their relationship. This is important for many reasons, least of which is that over the course of time, we naturally habituate to one another, and can then easily take each other for granted. This happens to the best of us, and there is an easy way to counteract this natural slide towards “not noticing”. So, what to do? Practice reflecting on these four questions:
- Calling your partner to mind, can you think of something that you appreciate about this person, or about being in relationship with this person? It could be something they have done for you, or for your relationship. It could be something in their personality, character or humanity. It does not need to be elaborate or grand. It could be as simple as appreciating that your honey warmed up the car for you on a cold morning. Or perhaps it is the way she can always make you laugh, even at the end of a long, stressful day.
- Now, ask yourself, what feeling is evoked in me around this appreciation? Hopefully, gratitude is at the top of the list, but there are often other feelings that are present, as well. It is not unusual for feelings to be contradictory, too. You might feel happy when your partner makes you laugh, and perhaps a little envious that they seem to be more lighthearted than you tend to be after a long, stressful day.
- Next, see if you can connect your appreciation to something in your childhood. Do you recall experiencing this, directly or indirectly as you grew up in your family or community? Perhaps it was modeled for you? Or the connection may be more bittersweet, or it may be connecting to a sense of deprivation in your childhood.
- And the last thing I ask clients to do is to take a moment to deepen insight into themselves by asking “in what way is this appreciation relevant to me?” It could be something that you easily share, or express, or do, as well. Or the insight could be more around this being a growth edge for you, or a way in which you and your partner are simply different.
As we head into Thanksgiving next week, I encourage you to be intentional around appreciating one another, and to reflect a little more deeply on the different layers that lie beneath a simple appreciation.
I will be taking some time off from blogging over the holidays. I plan to be back at it in 2017. Until then, I hope you have a wonderful holiday season, and wishing you all the peace.