When my oldest was two-and-a-half, my husband and I went through a difficult time in our marriage and sought counseling to help us through it. Growing up, I had seen a therapist at times when I needed some extra guidance in life, but this was my first plunge into couples therapy.
It was an interesting experience. I found comfort in some of the things the counselor said and did, but other methods I regarded as silly. My husband and I would give each other sidelong glances during the session and then laugh about it on the ride home. There was a purple velvet cushion she used for some symbolic and healing purposes that I have long since forgotten; the conch shell of therapy, we quickly dismissed it. But when my husband broke down and cried over the miscarriage we’d had, I felt our relationship strengthen. It was a loss I never realized he felt so deeply, and having that moment to mourn together helped us to move forward.
While I expected couples therapy to be mostly us talking about our present relationship, what I later realized was that our counseling sessions were very much about us as individuals—our pasts, our childhoods, our upbringings—and how these individual identities were shaping our marriage. We weren’t just dealing with immediate issues, we were dealing with those pieces of ourselves that had contributed to those issues. As it turned out, we both had similar feelings of inadequacy, and we both were beating ourselves up for the problems in our marriage.
Sometimes our counselor would give us homework to complete between sessions, and one time, she encouraged us each to write a list of the things we were good at. I probably poo-pooed the idea at first, but I can’t not do a homework assignment, so I set to work.
I’m a good cook.
I’m a good writer.
I’m a good homemaker.
I’m a good friend.
I’m a good mother.
I’m a good teacher.
I’m a good wife.
I’m a good dreamer.
I added some attributes: loyalty, humor, intelligence, organization, but the list proved challenging to write. I wasn’t used to thinking about the things I am good at, and maybe that was the whole point of the exercise: to find comfort in giving myself praise. Shoot, I’m not even comfortable accepting praise. When my husband tells me I look beautiful, I never just say thanks. I negate his compliment or I roll my eyes. Simply put: I don’t believe it.
Fortunately, with help and because of our commitment to each other, our marriage was repaired, and while we haven’t returned to counseling since, we both kept our lists. From time to time, I’ll come across his or mine, a reminder of how important it is to remember the good in us.
As we finish off the school year, I asked my students to write reflection letters where they provide feedback on my class. As I skimmed through them and took notes, I started feeling the overwhelming need for a total revamp of my curriculum and instruction.
Confiding in my co-worker about some of the more critical letters and all the changes I was pondering, she pointed at the one face-up on my desk. “You need to read these letters, and not worry so much about the other ones.”
On the top of the pile was a letter that thanked me for all I had done. The student said how much they loved my class, how much they had learned, and how much they’d miss me.
The point is, we need to spend more time concentrating on the job well done rather than the room for improvement. Instead of torturing myself about that one night when dinner went straight from pan to trashcan and I had to order a pizza, I should recall all those other meals that got devoured, the ones where my husband told me it was restaurant-worthy, because deep down I know, I am a good cook. Instead of harboring guilt from those times when I’ve been bitchy to my husband for no good reason, I should remember the times when I surprise him with a Groupon for a round of golf or hire the babysitter and plan a date night to try a new brewery in town, because the truth is, I am a good wife.
A good mother. A good friend. Good enough.
Am I perfect? Hell No. But I think I’ll try to spend less time obsessing over my imperfections and more time identifying the good.
Whether we are traveling across the country in search of the good in others, or simply searching within ourselves, there is more good everywhere– sometimes all we need is a reminder.
Maybe it’s time you wrote a list of your own. Let me get you started: I am a good _________________.