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Be Happy with What You’ve Got or Ask for More?

You value practicing gratitude and setting your intention to notice what's going well.  At the same time, you are committed to asking for what you want in your relationship.  So it hits you hard when you are in the midst of sharing something vulnerable with your partner and they say something like, "Can't you just be happy with what you've got?!"  or "It's never quite right for you."

It hits you hard because it seems to put you in a bind.  It seems to imply that in order to be happy with you've got, you can't ask for something more or communicate about what's not working for you.

Of course, the truth is that you can be grateful for what you've got and still ask for something or communicate about what's not working, both can be true.  There are no "shoulds" or "shouldn'ts" about when to ask for something or when to rest in gratitude.  There is no hidden relationship rule book that lists what you are allowed to ask for and what you aren't allowed to ask for.  

Only you can decide to what you want to give your energy to with regard to negotiating needs in your relationship.  Over time you may notice that it's not worth the energy expenditure to bring up things that are simply uncomfortable or irritating in the moment, but to only give your attention to that which is more deeply in or out of alignment with your needs and values.  

These are some things you might reflect on if you direct your attention inward upon hearing your partner's comment.  But if you only hear your partner's comment as a cue for self reflection, you miss the opportunity to respond to what they are expressing about themselves.

When your partner says anything they are, indirectly or directly, expressing their own feelings, needs, and requests.  This is equally true for comments that seem to be about you, like, "Can't you just be happy with what you've got?!",  If this comment was translated to a more direct expression of experience, it might sound like one of the following:

  • "Ugh, I'm feeling disappointed hearing you start to say what's not working, because I want to focus on what is going well right now."

  • "As you start to share, I imagine that you are judging me as not enough and that scares me because I want the security of knowing I am accepted."

  • "I'm feeling hopeless because I am thinking that I can never please you and I really want to be good partner."

  • "I'm feeling defensive because I want to protect my autonomy and your requests sound like demands to me."

  • "I'm feeling tired and just want to rest and reflect on all the good things that happened today."

Hearing your partner from an empathic place, you can keep your attention on their experience and make empathy guesses.  With more connection to your partner's needs, you may decide to share what was coming up for you at a later time or you might offer reassurance depending on the needs up for your partner.  

One last layer to consider as you reflect on gratitude and growth in your relationship, is "who" is being thankful or asking for more?  A reactive you might "should" yourself into gratitude as a way to shut down vulnerable feelings and needs.  A reactive you might also have a list of requests that wouldn't show up for a mindful and resourced you.  When you can't tell which you is present, it's helpful to wait a couple of days to see if what seemed urgent in the moment still seems important later once any reactivity has subsided.

Regardless of how you decide, when to ask for something and when to rest in gratitude, your partner is at choice as well.  If you can respect their choice and they can be honest and direct, and vice versa, the two of you will learn together how build a thriving relationship full of gratitude and growth.


Take a moment now to name for yourself one area of gratitude in your relationship and one area in which you would like to see growth.

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2 Responses

  1. Jan 15, 2016

    Thank you LaShell for another useful and thoughtful article. I just have a need for clarity about this in the penultimate paragraph "A reactive you might "should" yourself into gratitude as a way to shut down vulnerable feelings and needs. A reactive you might also have a list of requests that wouldn't show up for a mindful and resourced you. When you can't tell which you is present ..." I get the first sentence, almost get the second sentence, but then when I try imagine which you (me) is present I am flummoxed. Is it possible please to offer an example of these reactive yous and to say what sort of me I would be if I am not reacting - would I be ignoring everything and everyone so as not to react, or reacting to something else like the lovely weather , or my own felt bodily sense or what please?

  2. Jan 31, 2016

    Sure Katrina. When I am talking about a "reactive you", I am really saying when reactivity (a state that arises out of a misperception of threat) is making decisions they don't go well. When you are not perceiving threat, you are likely in "normal" state going about your day responding to others and taking care of every day tasks; you have access to all your knowledge, skills, and wisdom. Perhaps the easiest way to tell if you are making a decision from reactivity is the level of bodily tension or a sense of shut down or collapse. When any of these elements are present it's a cue to slow down and bring compassion and kindness to yourself and notice what's happening inside.

    Basically I am trying to bring attention to the fact that if something isn't working then it may be that that something was born out of forcing yourself to be grateful when you really need self-empathy first.

    Am I answering your question?

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