Being Grateful in Relationships

Dating or single -- advice for building your gratitude muscle to strengthen your relationships

young happy loving couple showing heart for valentine day on cozy outdoor walk in forest

Q: I know this is a season of showing thanksgiving and gratitude, but I’m having a hard time with it. Especially since my dating life is not where I want it to be. How can I practice gratitude in my relationships?

We are constantly bombarded with messages about what we must have in order to be happy: a better car, a better body, a group of friends always smiling into the camera, and more fashionable clothes at a great sale price. We only post the best pictures on Facebook, sometimes taking multiple shots until we get the happiest-looking best-angled shot. (Or is that just me?) What gets lost in this “I have to have everything I want to be happy” mentality is the discipline of gratitude.

We practice gratitude when we take time out to think about everyone in our life who has nurtured us and shown us the love of God. Even if that love was imperfect, as love from any human will be, we can be thankful for what was given. The discipline of gratitude is found when we are thankful even when we do not have everything we want. It means to be thankful for what we cannot see. This spirit of gratitude is how we bring ourselves into relationship with Christ at every Mass. So, when we practice gratitude in our lives, we are practicing a very important aspect of our faith.

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If you’re dating or in a relationship

I had a client tell me about a woman he loved very much, but it bothered him that she never said “thank you” after they went out to dinner. This couple had been dating for several years, so it’s likely she was appreciative in general but started taking their dinner-date routine for granted.

Simply saying “thank you” to your date can be very powerful. When a relationship isn’t everything you want it to be, it’s easy to think of all the qualities or behaviors you wish your date had. But, dating is like a restaurant special — no substitutions. You can’t substitute the qualities you like for the ones you don’t to form the “perfect” person. And even if you do find your perfect match, after years of dating or marriage there will be parts of the relationship you will want to improve.

The discipline of gratitude is found when we are thankful even when we do not have everything we want. It means to be thankful for what we cannot see.

Just as gratitude draws us closer to God, gratitude within a relationship draws partners closer together. It fosters a bond of trust and appreciation. You can’t give what you don’t have, so at times you may have to work at feeling thankful. Spending regular time in prayer will help bring the gift of the Holy Spirit into a relationship.

Participation in the Mass is a celebration of thankfulness for the gift of Christ and his sacrifice on the cross. Noticing how a partner sacrifices time or preferences (like skipping the football game to go to a couples shower) is how you practice gratitude. Showing appreciation for your partner helps to build a stronger relationship, or repair a relationship after a rough period. Gratitude can come in the form of words of appreciation, works of service, small gifts, or carving out special time together.

RELATED: The Art of Gift Giving in Relationships

If you’re single

If an intimate relationship is missing in your life, all this talk about gratitude might be hard to hear. Wanting to have a life partner is a good desire. It’s how God made us — to be connected to God and to one another. Authentic gratitude is not to deny that you want a more intimate connection in your life, but to stay connected to the ones you do have. You can meditate on being thankful for a close friend, family member, or simply a great community you are a part of.

When I was single, I remember being very thankful for Baylee, my Labrador. She was a source of companionship, comfort and unconditional love. Gratitude in relationships can come in many different forms.

Asking God to show you where you need to grow in gratitude is a great way to start building your gratitude muscle for that day when the right imperfect person does show up. Connecting to the Holy Spirit through Mass, prayers, adoration, or simply appreciation is a way to stay connected to a spirit of thankfulness. Meditating on the sacrifice Christ made in his Passion is a powerful way to change your perspective toward noticing what you have been given already, rather than what you don’t yet have. And what better way to experience gratitude?