I have a friend who writes down happy memories on scraps of paper. She folds each one and keeps them all in a jar.
When the jar is full, she sits down with a cup of coffee and reads the notes. It’s such a simple thing, but it refreshes each memory in her mind. It makes her feel the happiness all over again. It ensures she doesn’t forget life’s pleasant moments.
Most of the time it’s our problems that get the lion’s share of our attention.
Someone says something irritating to you at work. An unexpected large bill shows up in the mail. Your sister didn’t send you a birthday gift. Again.
It’s natural for your minds to focus on these things. Our tendency is to want to solve our problems, so we think about them.
But when you think about them too much, your quality of life declines. Your mood follows your thoughts. Humans generate stress hormones whenever we dwell on worries or irritating events.
We need what my friend has created for herself. We need ways to create a memory bank full of happiness. That’s especially true in relationships.
When you hit a rough patch in your relationship, it’s easy to focus all your attention on the obstacles and forget the good things. If you don’t have a memory bank of happiness cued up and ready to go, it will be harder to remember the good times. This creates an imbalance.
You need to take the time to remember the good…as a couple.
It’s no fun when you realize you’re doing more for him than he’s doing for you. He could give as much as you’re giving in the relationship. It’s not that he can’t. It just seems like he’s not willing.
And that’s why it hurts.
Sometimes our expectations for another person are based on what we know we’re willing to do for them. You know you’d move for his career, for example, so you want him to be willing to consider at least moving for yours.
And it’s not just the big stuff. It’s the people you hang out with, willingness to set aside hurt feelings for the sake of feeling close again, or being there for you when you’re in a bad mood.
There will always be sacrifices in relationships, but the moment you feel like you’re making most of them you’re in trouble. And the longer you feel that way, the more negatively it will affect the relationship.
The trick is to stop that imbalance from building into resentment.
Glennon Melton is a speaker and a New York Times bestselling author. Said another way, she’s someone who knows how to put words to good use.
In spite of that, she used to make the same mistake many of us make. When she and her husband saw each other at the end of the day, they greeted one another with a cliché question.
“How was your day? “
You probably won’t be surprised to learn that intimate, high-quality conversations didn’t tend to follow.
Eventually, the couple ended up in relationship therapy. I’ll let her explain what happened next:
“Through therapy, we learned to ask each other better questions… questions that carry along with them this message: ‘I’m not just checking the box here. I really care what you have to say and how you feel. I really want to know you. If we don’t want throw-away answers, we can’t ask throw-away questions.”
The problem is, “throw-away questions” are easy. We’re so accustomed to asking them that they’re practically automatic.
Jill just finished a one-on-one review with her boss. She’s venting to a friend in the break room.
Her boss gave her some criticism. He said she’s not “applying herself.” But she’s frustrated because she simply doesn’t know if putting in extra effort will pay off.
“I would work a lot harder if I knew it would guarantee a promotion or a raise,” she tells her friend.
Lance, a coworker, is pouring a cup of coffee within earshot. He understands completely. “Yeah, and I’d ask you out if I knew you were going to say yes,” he thinks to himself.
Jill and Lance are both wrestling with a common problem. We all struggle with feelings of uncertainty. No matter how brave or bold you are, it’s hard to commit when there’s no guaranteed payoff.
There’s a word for that. Risk. And if you deal with a risk like Jill and Lance, you’ll miss out on a lot of life’s rewards.
That’s especially true in relationships.