(Caption: Eric greeting me after he knew I had a hard day at work. He had dinner ready and cut the salad cucumbers into heart shapes. Guys, take some notes from this dude! 😍)
Recently, I called in sick due to a shitty head cold. As I was boiling water on my alcohol stove for ginger honey and lemon water the fuel ran out. I had meant to grab some the other day, fuck! Bad timing. I called Eric, who I lovingly refer to as my boat bitch, and within an hour he showed up with ethanol and a smile. He even went outside and filled it for me. As I watched him carefully and precisely fill the canisters I was flooded with appreciation. He made time and put effort into my comfort and ease while I was sick. He gives to me in so many little ways each day. It made me wonder, how often do I tell him this? How much do I take for granted?
Partners do all kinds of stuff for us. From changing the toilet paper roll and remembering to put it on the right way, to listening to the minutia of our day, they show us they care through their attention. There is a special kind of teamwork and comradery in intimate relationship we often overlook. Particularly in boat life, where there is constant trouble shooting and maintenance to be done, where small tasks take more time with constant movement, limited resources and small spaces. How often do I tell him thank you for having my cozy fire burning for when I get home, or texting me a sweet hi in the middle of the workday?
Humans are extremely habitual and desensitize easily. What once was novel quickly becomes routine. When I first met Eric and he would bring me coffee in bed I was thrilled that this tall man got up earlier than me to deliver my wake-up drug while I was still sleepy and warm. I would gush over the thoughtfulness. Now sometimes I am like, “Where’s my coffee? Did you forget the coconut cream again?” How does this happen? Does this mean I am a big of a jerk as writing that sounds?
Nope, I’m just human. It happens because it became a routine and then my brain scans for what’s wrong rather than what’s right. That’s what brains tend to do. Some of our brains do it more, mine absolutely adores focusing on a problem. Insert huge eye roll here. In Psychology they call this a negativity bias and I have written about that before. The good news is there is an antidote: intentionally focusing on the positive.
An excellent book that dives into this intensively is The Gratitude Diaries by Janice Kaplan. Rick Hanson’s work is also a terrific resource for cultivating greater happiness. Both talk about how we must train our brains to focus on what’s good to create more joy. This also creates more intimacy and ease in relationships. Even with yourself. I mean, when was the last time you appreciated the care you give yourself. “Wow Jenn, you take great care of your teeth, fucking great job!” or “Thanks for taking a sick day Jenn, it’s good to rest up when you are ill and not push.” How we feel about ourselves often impacts our primary relationships so notice your own self talk.
A lot of my work in the therapy office is helping people reframe to a positive outlook. This isn’t about bypassing the challenge and negative, it’s about balance. Eric is not always the greatest with time management and I need to address that with him as it impacts my life greatly with stress. However, I can also appreciate the efforts he puts into trying to do things differently and better in that department. It is a dance between voicing concerns and feelings and giving thanks to a partner who is listening and trying. That is a key to healthy relationship: are both people holding an intention of growth and trying their best to show up? To listen to and understand one another? To appreciate each other in our strengths and flaws?
Because of negativity bias, Gottman says that for everyone criticism we need to have five compliments or positives. If you have a strong negativity bias, there has been a history of relational damage that needs repair, or you have a significant trauma history or shame, often you need more; like a twenty to one ratio. So, if I criticize Eric for being late, or making my coffee wrong, I need to give anywhere from 5-20 appreciations or good jobs for other things to balance out the relationship and create a vibe that he is appreciated. When people don’t feel appreciated it impacts their self esteem and can build major resentment in a relationship.
When I first heard these ratios, I thought it seemed a tough thing to do. That’s a lot of praise! Initially it was, I was in a place where Eric was pissing me off constantly. A combination of perimenoupause, a boat refit, and a hard day job I wasn’t feeling super complimentary. Eric also had some super bad time management habits that were impacting my life in challenging ways at that time. I was nagging, a lot. I had built up a lot of anger around it. I even had high expectations that I wasn’t clearly communicating with him, then bitching about it when he didn’t fulfill it. Not a great strategy. So along with learning to communicate my needs and expectations better, I also started to try noticing everything he did that I liked and saying it out loud to both him and me.
To my surprise, any day I could have well over 100 appreciations easily. Thanks for my coffee, I love your good morning snuggles, I appreciate that you put your shoes where I asked, I love that you are so enthusiastic about my boat, thank you for believing in me, I love your hands, you work so hard, I know you are trying to change, I needed that laugh, you are so silly, I notice how you always move closer to me on the couch when we read so we touch, I am proud of you for taking care of yourself, I love what a nerd you are. Do you see how when you get going the list can go on and on? It’s not even about appreciating what your partner does for you, it’s also just acknowledging them for who they are and why you like them so damn much. My view of him started to shift, I was more flirty and happy. Instead of angrily nagging about his lateness I would jokingly point it out as I slapped his butt and we would both laugh. As an added bonus, he started feeling better about our relationship and himself and relaxing. This led him to getting stuff done in a more timely fashion. Win-win. Besides, how can I ever stay mad or not appreciate a man who shows up at my dock gate in a unicorn onesie after a hard day at work to cheer me up?
Sailing life has unique opportunities to grow a relationship because there are many very intensive ways you must show up as a team. There is built in vulnerability and intimacy on boats you just don’t have in land life. These give ample opportunities for us to appreciate one another as humans, partners, lovers and fellow sailors. I have noticed that with intention and practice giving Eric gratitude has become easier. I nag less and less. I love him more and more. We both have more enthusiasm for working on the relationship. Often now positive shit just blurts out my mouth naturally. We laugh and I say, “I love your laugh!” We fight and Eric says, “You are so cute when you are mad!” That one backfires on occasion, but I appreciate the sentiment, nonetheless. May you go out and tell your loved ones what you love about them today.
May we all sail in peace.
As always, the nerd power couple. 😍 Couples who play together stay together folks!