There were these popular storybooks when I was a kid. They had pages of stickers in the back, and each page had indicated spots where you could put the sticker that completed the illustration and added too the story. I didn’t like them. Stickers stressed me out because if you put them in the wrong place or changed your mind, it was too late. You could remove them, but the stickers would curl and never really stick again. The paper would tear and lose its smooth, fresh surface to a permanent scar.
In the grown-up world, our relationships are like those storybooks. We start with the cookie-cutter format society supplies, and then press the messages we absorb from our family, community, religion, culture and experiences to our lives like stickers.
We affix our dreams, needs and expectations to another human being who is just as fragile as we are. As time passes, things change. We are changed.
One funny thing about people is how we put all kinds of emphasis on teaching our kids how to get along in school and in business, but instruction on how to get along with other people tends to start dissipating after kindergarten. We don’t learn to talk about things in an authentic, open way.
Overwhelmed, we start pulling off our stickers, not understanding where it all went so wrong. Hurt, bitterness, disappointment, anger multiply and wound. Friends, the remedy and prevention for this is trust. Trust is rebuild by communication.
It’s fun when you enjoy all the same things and laugh at the same jokes. It feels good when all our needs are being meet, but real life is a lot messier than that because we are all needy and flawed. A relationship is fulfilling and solidified when both sides are giving. When each spouse knows the other is equally invested, they’re both willing to give more. Over time, the love will start piling up. The sun shines brighter, food tastes better and life’s blows are a little softer.
If you are in a struggling relationship, I encourage BOTH of you to try this: For six weeks, live every moment for your partner. Be courteous and kind. Try to anticipate their needs. Save the last snack for them. Learn their favorite song, and ASK why it’s their favorite. Start saying things like “Wait, I’m confused, can you say that again?” or “Maybe I misunderstood you”. “That sounded kind of mean. Is that really what your meant?” is really useful. If you get frustrated say so, BEFORE it escalates. LISTEN without being defensive. Ask questions and be EMPATHETIC. Seek understanding instead of validation or gratification.
During this process, at least one of you will screw up at least once. When it happens, be kind and forgiving. Someone should apologize without deflecting blame, and the other should forgive and LET GO! Don’t keep a record of every fault. Remember your spouse can’t read your mind. We’re all trying to figure it out as we go. Be gracious, merciful and humble. It will only work if both of you participate. Also, don’t make any major decisions about your life before you read The Velveteen Principles.