Cleaning up the Mess

Last time we talked about your relationship being like a shop. Over time it gets cluttered with boxes of “stuff.” Hurt feelings and unmet needs hinder a relationship from being close. Some of us begin our marriage with baggage that we carry from when we grew up. We seldom begin with a “clean shop” so to speak. Before we come back from the honeymoon our shop is already piled with clutter.

So how do we apply common sense to clean up the clutter in our relationship?

First, honestly assess the quality of your relationship. Both spouses should independently score themselves from 1 to 10 on the following:

  • overall quality of our relationship
  • time together
  • communication
  • finances
  • physical health
  • free time
  • relatives
  • kids
  • romance
  • sex life
  • mutual trust
  • household chores
  • handling problems and decisions
  • spiritual life
  • church involvement
  • goals
  • dreams
  • desires

Add additional items if you feel they are needed.

Now, each should list about 10 items that you really appreciate about your spouse and any items that are a struggle. Honesty is important. Hiding issues lets “boxes of stuff” remain covered.

Now list four things that you feel would help your relationship grow closer.

And finally, list anything that has really hurt you. This can be difficult. It requires that you dig deep. Often when we have been hurt, we bury our feelings because they are too hurtful to talk about. But these particular “clutter boxes” can be the very issues that keep us from being truly close. We can easily overlook socks left on the floor, but deeply felt wounds are like invisible forces that keep us from being close. (More on Hurt and Forgiveness in a future blog.)

Completing the assessment above is merely a first step to let you know if you have clutter in your relationship. The list and your answers will help you to begin a discussion on how to take a particular area and begin the process of making it a 9 or a 10.

Here are some helpful tips:

  1. The shop is “our shop.” It isn’t “your box of junk.” Both must realize that in order to have a close relationship you both need to be responsible to work on getting it healthy. Look at an area of concern in this light: What can “we” do together to work at making this issue less of a hindrance to us having a close relationship.
  2. Patience should guide your actions. It took us a week to clean up our messy shop. Relationships are much more complex and patience is needed to allow time to resolve issues. We bring issues into our relationships that have been issues since we were young children. They take time to work through. Don’t try to resolve them all at once. Take a few steps and be thankful for your progress. Be patient and gracious with each other.
  3. Communicate with each other in a kind, loving, and non-demanding manner. Remember that you are working at cleaning issues up so you can enjoy the richness of a soul mate relationship.

Big Problems

What if we have big problems? Can Common Sense help us to resolve these problems?

I remember several months ago we needed to clean up our shop. It’s a large shop and we had accumulated 30 years of stuff like garden and shop tools, and boxes of things we had moved from California. We had several old used appliances and lawn mowers, old rugs and stuff not even worthy of saving for a garage sale. The kids had used the shop for playing air soft games and so various barriers were built as hiding places. One of the lofts had old furniture. The other loft was full of old files and boxes, some from college and high school classes. There were ping pong tables and piles of old wood. You’re right, a cluttered mess. When we removed one pile, it uncovered another with more stuff to be sorted, cleaned, organized or thrown out. Embarrassing. How did we get so much junk? How did it pile up into such a mess?

We knew the shop needed to be cleaned out. Starting at one end, we moved things out to sweep, vacuum, rearrange, and set up a garbage pile. It ended up being a very big pile. And just for the record, we swept and vacuumed up thousands of air soft pellets. But after almost a full week of cleaning and a few trips to the dump, we got it done. We even took pictures!! A pretty big task when we started but it looked so good when we got it done.

Sometimes our marriages, just like the shop, get all cluttered up. We begin with small problems. Those problems, when left unresolved, cause other problems. A husband may have a habit of not remembering to call when coming home late from work. At first, his wife gets upset about the cold dinners, eating alone and disappointed children. She lets him know how upset she is about his lack of consideration, and then she nags him about it for several months with no fruit. He gets upset about the nagging, and she eventually quits bringing it up, burying her feelings. Resentment and bitterness fester causing a noticeable distance in their relationship. He comments about how cold she has become and how he misses being affectionate. She responds in cold silence. He is totally unaware that his lack of consideration has snowballed into a mini cold war. What started as a simple problem grew into a huge problem. Over time, add five or six other issues into the mix, compounded by unspoken needs and expectations, and you have a real mess. Just like the shop. And you’re left wondering how you begin to get this mess cleaned up.

Something to consider: Does your relationship have clutter? Are there boxes of unresolved issues? Are there issues that you don’t even talk about? When you first got married, did you and your spouse bring boxes or “stuff” and put them in your shop? Did you have goals, dreams, or desires that never materialized and are a source of tension or disappointment?

Next time: What steps can you take to deal with the Mess.

More Common Sense

Remember the Definition of “Common Sense”: sound practical judgment that is independent of specialized knowledge, training, or the like; normal native intelligence.

Does that mean that we should not seek out specialized knowledge or training? That we should rely simply on our own good Common Sense to work out issues that surface in our marriage?

Let me ask a simple Common Sense question. If you wanted to go fishing and you really wanted to, as best as possible, catch fish, and you had no prior experience fishing, wouldn’t it make sense to try to acquire some “insider information” on how to fish before actually attempting to fish? Well of course it would. It would be operating in the principle of Common Sense to read up on some basic best practices of fishing before actually going out and trying to fish.

But let’s take a step back. Let’s say that you went fishing without reading or consulting anyone. You reason to yourself that you will need a fishing pole and some bait. So you purchase both, and you head out to the nearest river. You bait the hook and try to cast. After a few practice casts, you land the line in the water. You fish in this manner for several hours. Knowing that fishing takes patience, you repeat this process for several weeks, then months. In all that time, you never catch one fish. Truth be told, you have never even had a nibble. By now you are extremely frustrated. Fishing just doesn’t work.

Just as you’re getting ready to pack it up and go home, you notice someone coming down the bank of the river. He looks up and down the river, selects a spot near some rocks, baits his line and casts in. Good luck, you think to yourself. But within ten minutes, he hooks a beautiful steelhead, carefully works his reel and skillfully nets the fish. He brings it over to show you and then asks if you can take his picture. You click off a few and he leaves. You sit staring at the river and your pole and bait. Disgusted, you throw all of your gear into the river and go home vowing never to fish again. Little did you know that you had the wrong bait, the wrong pole, the wrong weight line and you were repeatedly casting in the wrong spot.

Sometimes we approach marriage the same way. After all, we got along good while dating. We knew each other pretty well and never had a big fight before we got married. And we’ll figure it out as long as we still love each other. How tough can it be? So we begin the journey of married life, figuring it out as we go. We are too embarrassed or proud to ask for help and we keep repeating the same mistakes because we don’t know how to do anything else. Common Sense says be a student of the most important relationship in your life. Read, study, ask questions, attend seminars, and by so doing improve your skills.

Common Sense Marriage??

Common Sense in Marriage?? But, marriage is too complicated. There can’t be a simple way to figure these things out. You need to have a specialist, a trained master with degrees and years of experience to even begin to unravel the complexity of issues that married couples deal with every day. Right??

Well, actually, no… That’s not right. Look at the dictionary definition of Common Sense: sound practical judgment that is independent of specialized knowledge, training, or the like; normal native intelligence.

Do we all have the basic skills to deal with the basic problems that plague most marriages? I think we do. Oh sure, we need to exercise those skills and develop them, but the basic skills are already available to us.

I’m reminded of a couple I met with over twenty five years ago. They needed help with their finances. His job only provided a minimal income and they always had problems meeting basic monthly bills. The financial stress was taking a toll on their relationship. They asked if I could help organize their budget because it was getting so bad that they didn’t even have enough money to buy milk for the babies. Wow, that must be pretty bad. There had to be something that could be done. So, with a pad of paper and pencil (yes it was that long ago) I sat down with them for several hours. We started with a detailed list of all their bills. Rent, car payments, food and utilities, insurance, personal items, child care expenses. Sure enough, the budget was tight, really tight. After a few hours, I noticed that I was starting to get a headache. And then I noticed that the room was filled with cigarette smoke. I don’t smoke and will usually get a headache from being in smoke for too long. Ah, I thought to myself. Another budget item not yet mentioned. I asked how much did they smoke and they admitted that they each smoked a pack of cigarettes per day. I asked how much does a pack cost? Well, about $1.50. (Yep, like I said, it was that long ago) Here’s the Common Sense part. At $1.50 per day each, that’s $3.00 per day. That’s $90.00 per month to buy cigarettes. I sat back and said that you do have enough money for milk for the babies, you’re just smoking it.

That’s my point. Sometimes the most basic, simplest solutions are right there in front of us. No specialized knowledge, no advanced degrees, no 30 sessions with a marriage counselor. Just good old basic Common Sense.

I don’t mean to imply that ALL problems can be resolved with simple steps. Some problems are indeed complicated and are quite difficult to resolve. But many of those evolved because basic everyday problems grew and festered until smaller problems added to other problems and then it grew into a mountain of problems. Common Sense: Deal with problems when they are small.

Next time: But what if we have BIG PROBLEMS???