How Doing This One Thing Will Drastically Improve Your Relationship

Buddhist monks don’t have a lot of money.   So when a new monastery was being built in Western Australia, all the monks were turned into builders.

One particular monk, Ajahn Brahm, was tasked with building a brick wall.  In his previous life he was a Scientist; he’d never laid a brick in his life.

With patience and tenacity he got the hang of it.  Carefully he placed each brick, ensuring it was centered perfectly.  He was even starting to enjoy it.

When the last brick was laid, he stepped back to take a look.

At first he marveled at his work, proud of each and every well-laid brick.

And then he saw it.

Oh no!

Two of the bricks were not straight at all – in fact, they were horribly crooked.  How did he not notice this?

He was horrified and embarrassed.

He begged the Abbot to let him tear down the wall and start again.  “How could we have such a ghastly wall in our new monastery?”

But the Abbot was firm, the wall stayed.

One day as Ajahn Brahm was showing a visitor around the new monastery, they happened to be walking right towards it.  Quickly he tried to divert the visitor’s attention elsewhere –  anywhere other than the awful brick wall.

But then the visitor stopped, looked dead square at the wall and commented on what a magnificent brick wall it was.

Ajahn Brahm was taken aback, “don’t you see the two bricks that are crooked?”

To which the visitor replied, “What I see is 998 bricks that are perfectly straight – it’s remarkable!”

Ajahn Brahm had been unable to see all the other bricks that he had beautifully laid down, all he could see were the two bad bricks.

Pay Attention To What’s Wrong, Not What’s Right!

Our brain didn’t evolve to make us happy, it evolved to keep us alive.  So our brain is hardwired to focus on the negative, the things that could kill us.

Even when we have an overwhelmingly greater number of positive things we will still focus on the one negative and exaggerate just how bad it is.

With this predisposition and our imagination we can turn a hangnail into Stage 4 Cancer.

And this is what we do in our relationships.

We take one bad interaction and blow it up into something much bigger than it really is.

Maybe your partner had a bad day and he doesn’t display the level of gratitude you expected for the beautiful dinner you prepared; in fact he barely notices it.

Inside you’re seething, and every little thing he ever did that annoyed you comes to mind. All you see are his bad qualities, the two bad bricks, and it’s as if the 998 other bricks don’t even exist.

Dr Gottman’s magic ratio is that in good relationships we need to have five positive interactions to balance out one negative.

We all have bad days, you’re going to have negative interactions occasionally.

So what if you could do something proactive to build up all the positives – really lay out all those 998 good bricks in advance?

Introducing Your Gratitude Bowl

You’re probably familiar with gratitude journals and the enormous benefits that can come from keeping one – like getting a better night’s sleep just by writing down three things you’re grateful for before you go to bed.

The gratitude bowl works a little bit differently.

Every day you and your partner each write down on a small piece of paper one thing you’re grateful for about the other person, fold the paper up and throw it in the bowl.

It can be something as little as, “I appreciate that you brought me a cup of coffee while I was getting ready this morning,” or “I appreciate that you knew I had a tough day and you called to check on me and make sure I was doing OK.”

As you see the little pieces of paper pile up it will be a constant reminder of the positive aspects of your relationship.

Occasionally you might pull one out and read something you wrote about your partner or she wrote about you. Either way it will make you feel positive about your relationship as you reflect on the kindness that you showed to your partner or she showed to you.

Where Attention Goes Energy Flows

This exercise helps us to savor the good moments. Spending more time focusing our attention on what’s right instead of what’s wrong.

Our brain is constantly trying to get us to focus on the negative. So we have to be active in elevating the positive experiences to a higher status.

My Partner Would Never Go For This

Although you’re totally into all this stuff, maybe your partner isn’t. This is a realistic objection and don’t worry because I’ve got you covered.

Start the Gratitude Bowl on your own.

For 30 days write down something your partner did that you appreciate (it doesn’t matter how small it is!).

At the end of 30 days, present the Gratitude Bowl to your partner.

It will be better than any birthday present she’s every received, even better than Christmas.

Who doesn’t want all their kind acts to be acknowledged?

Each piece of paper is a surprise, and reminds her of all the kind things she’s done for you.

How great do you think she’d feel in that moment?

It’s the kindest gift you can give your partner to let her know that all these little things matter.

At that point, tell her you’d like to continue doing this together. You won’t have to convince her why this is important – she already knows.

It’s just too easy for us to focus on the two bad bricks in our relationships.

If you want to keep nurturing and improving your relationship then make sure the 998 good bricks are always on display in your gratitude bowl.


12 Responses

  1. Gratitude is what we practice everyday. At the end of our morning yoga we hug each other.
    The bowl is great idea too!

  2. This was a great one! Love the Gratitude Bowl idea. It made me think and immediately sit down to write an email to our son and daughter-in-law who live far away and whom we want to have a more positive relationship with. Even though the appreciations I wrote down to them were general because we don’t see them daily or even weekly, I noted 5 positive comments about them as our son/daughter-law (to counteract the one or two negative thoughts that occasionally intrude about our relationship with them, which is I’m sure exaggerated because of distance). This blog made me realize how much our brain tries to sabotage the good stuff and focus on the little negatives instead of the many positives.

    1. I’m so glad to hear you put this right to work! 🙂 It’s a good reminder – for all our relationships! A little gratitude goes a long, long way!

    1. This post inspired a little gratitude bag I put together for you – it should be in your mailbox when you get home tonight! <3

  3. Very helpful! Even though I’m not in a relationship right now, I can still put the concept to use with just my daily life.
    Thanks for helping me, again!

    Love, Libby

  4. Love this one, Meredith. Being a Virgo (imperfect perfectionist) I see every little thing out of place or off and sometimes react impatiently. My husband does many thoughtful things daily and I would have several entries for some days – not so many other days, but I love the idea of a gratitude bowl to make me more aware of the special things he does.

    1. I would never have guessed you were an imperfect perfectionist because you always seem perfect to me! 🙂 Let me know how it goes if you do the bowl with Bill! Big hugs to you both!

  5. What a brilliant suggestion! I’ve been doing daily gratitudes on Facebook since early August, on my personal profile for one month, and now in a ‘secret’ group with invited people who expressed their desire to do the same but not publicly.

    I’ve been looking at ways to improve my marriage, and to focus more on what’s RIGHT with it and my husband, rather than what irritates me. I do know that we can only change ourselves – so doing the 30 days myself initially sounds like a perfect solution to start.

    Thank you Meredith 😉

    1. That’s so great what you are doing with gratitude! The more ways we can nurture this quality in us and others the more we’ll all benefit. So happy that you found one more tool in your gratitude toolkit here. 🙂

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