This is the highlight of my day

Portrait of a Young GirlIn the 1999 it movie American Beauty, actor Kevin Spacey playing Lester Burn ham quotes this line while masturbating in the shower one morning. It’s a disturbing scene that captures everything wrong with his life.

The movie was rather depressing and seemed to strike a chord with many couples as it was about a couple who only looks for what is wrong in each other instead of what is right.

“Admiration and appreciation are the cornerstones of any healthy relationship,” says Trista Sutter, the original bachelorette in her book Happily Ever After: The Life-changing Power of a Grateful Heart (Sutter 61).

One of the things that I find fascinating is that in the beginning of a relationship we brag to our friends about everything that is amazing about the person we are dating. But then, as the relationship progresses, eventually enters into marriage, that dialogue shifts to bitching about everything that is wrong with that exact same person. Over time we can take the other person for granted.

“When you are feeling the most grateful for your significant other, you are more committed to making your relationship last. When you are more committed to making your relationship last, you are more responsive to the needs of the one you love and become a better and more caring listener. When you are a better and more caring listener, your partner feels more appreciated by you. When your partner feels more appreciated by you, they feel more grateful for you – and the cycle begins again.” (Sutter 63).

I quoted Trista’s full paragraph here because it has all of the wisdom wrapped up into a few sentences. But I also like Trista’s version of expressing gratitude to her partner. In addition to saying thank you, she also encourages her partner to do what he loves which actually says that I love you, I appreciate you, and I am grateful for you (Sutter 63). My wife does that with me and I know I appreciate it. I know some husbands that come home from golf and are terrorized for daring to spend time in a selfish activity. And here I thought we were winning the global war on terror.

If you are having trouble getting over a past relationship, particularly if you took it on as a massive failure or mistake, right now you need to make lemonade out of lemons and think of five things you learned from that relationship to better yourself from here on out (Sutter 77). Right now, go write them down. I’ll wait for you.

The only failure is a failure to learn. The problem with leaving the relationship is that you take you with you.

If you have not changed as you enter the new relationship, whatever problems you’re having today or that you had in the last relationship will eventually return. Yes, the other person carries some fault as well but it is never all one person’s fault. I recently completed a certificate  in marriage education and divorce prevention through the Robbins – Madanes Center for Strategic Intervention. After watching dozens of interventions about couples having problems some of the most recurring themes were:

  • Not appreciating the other person (only finding what’s wrong)
  • Not taking responsibility for their role in the failure or problems in the relationship (it was always the other person’s fault, which is both unrealistic an ignorant)
  • Not resolving issues prior to coming into the existing relationship. This is like getting a bucket of swampy water and walking from one fresh lake to another but only ever drinking out of that same contaminated bucket.

It was just over a year ago when the shootings occurred at Sandy Hook elementary. And considering that the Sutter’s live in Colorado, as do I, a State that gets a lot of attention for its active shootings, I was very interested in her take on these senseless tragedies. I was also surprised to see that she had mentioned another more local tragedy that also happened a little over year ago in Westminster, Colorado, just a few miles from where I live. A 10-year-old girl was abducted on her way to school, sexually assaulted and then barbarically killed. How do you make sense of that?

I remember standing in the public library parking lot next to Columbine High School the day after the tragedy as part of the public information team for Jefferson County, trying to make sense of what had just happened. I also remember the morning just over year ago when I woke up and was reading the Twitter feed about the Aurora movie theater shootings, and then I vividly remember watching the whole Sandy Hook incident go down on national TV. I couldn’t help but think about those tiny, precious little lives, cut down for no good reason other than somebody just couldn’t figure out how to feel significant in a positive way or whatever. How do you teach gratitude to your kids when the 24-hour news cycle delivers one tragedy after another?

But Trista does have a great perspective on this. She realizes that giving in to fear, would be giving in to the bad guys. I have to watch my own response to this because I know my kids are watching my response to these events and they are learning. I don’t know if they are learning what I want them to learn but they are definitely learning nonetheless. Sutter says that our job is to shape impressionable minds through a balancing act between acknowledging the existence of darkness, so they can do their best to keep themselves safe, and helping them focus on the far more prevalent light and love of the world (Sutter 86).

There are days when I miss “Mister Rogers.”I was a big fan of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, and there are some days I really wish I could go back to the land of make-believe. I really did think that trolley went into another magical world. And maybe it did. I know it certainly went to a place where six-year-old kids weren’t gunned down while sitting in their classrooms. Sutter taps into some Mister Rogers wisdom (and we could really use him now!).

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘look for the helpers.’ You will always find people who are helping.” — Fred “Mister” Rogers.

In times of disaster it is comforting to see how many caring people are still left in the world. Unfortunately, many of them never get the recognition that the person, (or the natural disaster), gets who caused the damage, but they are there, doing their jobs quietly, professionally and without fanfare. I know people accuse the media of only showing the bad things, but if you are paying attention you will actually see many stories (depending on the network) that highlight these unsung heroes. I work with too many reporters to buy into the “news only shows the bad stuff,” rhetoric.

One thing that I hope to teach my kids is to be grateful, particularly in a world where they don’t see it much of the time. You can’t assume that a grateful and gracious person is born that way (Sutter 90). In fact, one of the things that gets my wife tonight the most upset is if our kids feel to show gratitude. Maybe it’s because both of us grew up without a lot of money and the family, but are basic needs were always provided for. We live lives of more abundance than both of our parents did during our upbringing, and I think that has shaped our perspective to be one of more gratitude.

However, our kids do not have this perspective. They are growing up at a different time and in slightly different cultures. We want them to appreciate their roots but we also want the best for them, as our parents wanted for us. Trista says that, and research supports us, tying your children into their family legacies can build an attitude of gratitude (Sutter 93). Also, it’s in the little things. Telling someone thank you for letting you in front of them in traffic, or holding a door for someone, all are acts of thankfulness and gratitude.

Have you moved from gratitude in your daily life and particularly in your relationship? What are you teaching your kids about gratitude? Keep in mind, it’s not what you’re saying to them, it’s how your behaving – that’s how kids learn. If you are having problems in a relationship, now is the time to think back and write down what you used to think about that person when you first met them. Then, before you start thinking about how they changed, be honest with yourself about what you brought to the relationship (all those unresolved issues from the last relationship) and how you have changed. What do you focus on today that you were not focused on back then? What can you focus on today that would move your relationship closer together, rather than farther apart? What do you WANT to be the highlight of your day?

Sutter, Trista. Happily Ever After: The Life-changing Power of a Grateful Heart. Boston: Da Capo, MA. Print.

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