If you follow this blog or follow me on Facebook, you know 1) that I pick a word of the year at the beginning of each year (this year is ALCHEMY) and, 2) that I am taking part in a few online classes for the duration of 2017. For the past 10 years or so, I have made a conscious effort to spend a portion of my income on personal development and creative pursuits; it complements my burgeoning “experiences over things” mentality really well. This year has me enrolled in four separate online classes designed to raise personal awareness, help me be a better artist (and do more of my own art), and encourage me to add more value to the world around me. One of them is Ali Edwards’ One Little Word class. Her class is dedicated to all the ways our words show up for us in a given year. Each month, there are prompts and challenges and we are encouraged to record our word-related journeys in a journal. At the end of the year, we have this amazingly detailed piece to look back on and reflect upon. February’s prompt/challenge was to commit to a certain practice every single day. It could be 15 minutes of creativity, love-making, yoga, meditation. It could be a month of home cooked meals instead of eating out. Some people chose a fitness challenge. The possibilities were limitless.
You may have seen my post on Facebook where I gave myself some public accountability by sharing that my practice was going to be dedicated to my marriage. It is my most important relationship, but not one that receives a significant, consistent amount of devoted focus. Like many of you, we, with our busy schedules and demanding professions, seem to superficially coexist more than we deeply connect. Many days have us passing the baton and most of our conversations are centered around to-do lists, menus, and carpooling. Anything deeper and more meaningful is often initiated by me and I sometimes get resentful about that, which creates a spiral of nit-picking and badgering. Not pleasant for either one of us.
All that being said, my commitment for February was to shower my husband in gratitude. Each day, I committed to the practice of identifying AT LEAST one thing in my marriage I am grateful for and/or one thing about him that I love. There were no boundaries on that criteria: it could consist of something he did, said, or simply the ways in which he shows love. Subconsciously, I gave myself bonus points if I actually expressed the gratitude TO HIM so he could be privy to this mindset shift and its benefits. The overall goal was less nitpicking and more loving.
Being that this is March 1st, I am here to report back on how the month went. I have to level with you: I consider myself to have a predominantly happy, healthy marriage, but this was an INCREDIBLY CHALLENGING practice. As it turns out, it was also incredibly rewarding. There were days that were easier than others, like the days he cooked dinner while I worked, did all the snow removal while I stayed inside in my pajamas, or brought me an orchid for Valentine’s Day. Some days, I would sit for what seemed like an eternity at the end of each day to try to identify some kind of redeeming quality or some little nugget to be grateful for. On those days, there was no real tangible item to cling to—we may not have even spent any time together—so I had to seek out the subjective, like the beautiful way he handles loss and adversity, how I love that we have many of the same goals and dreams, and how incredibly handsome I think he looks when he shaves. There were three days out of twenty-eight where I came up completely empty-handed. On those days, I would ask myself questions like, “Why is this so damn hard?” and “Should it really take this much work?” Those weren’t necessarily bad days, they were simply days where I didn’t dedicate enough time to my practice, whether out of exhaustion, frustration, or distraction.
Which brings me to my next point: I realized over the course of the past 28 days that those exact things—exhaustion, frustration, and distraction—if left unchecked, can completely unhinge a marriage. Those are the days where the bad seems to outweigh the good. String enough of those days together and you might not be able to recover or regain your footing. During the month of February, those were the days where I found it even more important to focus on gratitude and love as a counter to the negative thought pattern.
As a result of this practice, I learned a lot about myself, too. I find myself actively seeking out the good instead of nagging about the bad. I have a tendency to be *really* sarcastic and sarcasm is often how I deal with the steady stream of annoyances in married life (and myriad other annoyances, if I am being completely honest). I’ll toss out a biting remark here, a jab veiled as humor there, all in an attempt to get my point across (in a way that is neither particularly direct nor effective). That tactic doesn’t leave my husband or me feeling particularly joyful, connected, or valued. As a result, he responds to my sarcasm with withdrawal and avoidance. So, it’s kind of like this circuitous wheel of dysfunction that I discovered I play a big part in. When I am able to adult properly and use my big girl words like, “I need you to do X because it helps with Y,” it usually works (*it hasn’t worked with tax prep yet and I have been asking him since February 3, but I am giving him a few more days of grace before I report his negligence to our accountant).
I haven’t yet asked my husband how he felt about the month and whether or not he observed any differences, but I will make time for that and I am guessing he did. Maybe I will encourage him to share his thoughts by commenting on this blog post so you can all see his perspective.
I am ridiculously grateful for the opportunity to grow and learn from this wee little practice. I am also happy with the resulting effects on my relationship with my husband. I have always felt that change starts from within and this is one more example that reaffirms that belief. Like the Whole30 program that we simultaneously tackled last month, I will be carrying a lot of what I learned with me as I move forward. So much positive growth in such a short period of time….it’s good for the soul.
If you want so see some of my thoughts or read my daily gratitude log, simply click on the images and that will make them full sized so you can read them a bit easier. Sea glass image was from a trip we took to the beach together on a particularly warm and sunny day last month. It was one of my favorite days of late.