"What are three things you appreciate about me?" my partner cheekily whispered to me.
"Why you little...!"
I couldn't believe it.
My partner and I had been engaged in a rare but nevertheless very heated argument that evening, which we hadn't managed to resolve prior to retiring to bed.
Now I was lying there, absolutely steaming with my back turned to him, and he had the nerve to try to pull our regular bedtime gratitude routine? Ugh, what nerve!
For those who read my previous post, you know I've been on my own personal gratitude journey for some time now. I've experimented with all sorts of different gratitude practices over the years, and upon reading an article warning against the relationship dangers of taking one's partner for granted, I decided to implement a nightly ritual with my own partner, declaring three things that we appreciated about each other each day.
We'd been engaging in the practice for months and found it a wonderful way to connect as well as calm and refocus our minds on positive thoughts before drifting off to sleep.
But now, in this moment when I was steeped in anger directed squarely at my partner, feeling gratitude towards him was the furthest thing from my mind.
When he posed that cheeky question to me though, it abruptly stopped me in my mental tracks.
Previously my mind had been spinning with thoughts of "How could he this" and "How dare he that," while I stewed away in my state of anger. Suddenly, through his question, he caused my mind to shift gears and broaden my focus away from my narrow self-pity to consider the bigger picture.
And oh boy did I feel the internal conflict. Part of me clenched ever more tightly to that self-righteous feeling of "I've been wronged." But there was also an almost instinctive reaction from the gratitude habit I'd created to scan my memory of the day for all the positive interactions we'd had: the long hug we'd had before I left for work in the morning, the hot chocolate he'd made for me... that even when we didn't see eye-to-eye he still stayed by my side.
Guess which reaction won out?
In that moment I discovered that I wasn't able to simultaneously hold onto my anger and feel gratitude toward my partner. It was almost as though his cheekiness in asking what I appreciated about him flipped a switch in my mind that sent me down a different track.
Things weren't all rosy and perfect immediately after that of course, but my mind calmed down significantly and we were able to return to civil discourse. I (admittedly a bit reluctantly) shared what I appreciated about him and felt validated when he did the same for me. So much easier to fall asleep after that.