Why Settle for Less?

I knew a couple who had been married for over forty years.  They had a comfortable home, no real financial worries, and their children were all married. But they had baggage. Their “shop” was severely cluttered with boxes of issues.  Some of the boxes of deep hurts were buried and marked with the labels “DO NOT TOUCH – CAUSES TOO MUCH PAIN”.  They lived at opposite ends of the shop, careful not to disturb the status quo.  They would share some meals together, the bills got paid, the clothes got washed and the day to day things got done because they had learned to co-exist in a standing truce.  They shared their house; how sad they didn’t share their lives.

 We can all visualize that perfect “10” relationship; we’d call them soul mates, best friends and lovers.  There is a giddy euphoria and joy in their lives and they just love being together.  For some of us that perfect “10” is a lofty ideal, something you read about in fairy tales. It’s not reality, not for us, not now, maybe never.  And for others, it seems we’re almost there; no major problems have cluttered our lives and we experience the joy of being together almost every day.

 Several years ago I reflected on the state of my relationship with Darleen.  I knew on a scale of 1 – 10 our relationship was at maybe a three.  Oh, there were good days that we could get to a 5 or 6, but those were few and far between.  The “Oasis Days” is what I called them.  When you live day to day in a desert, being in the oasis is like being able to breathe and get a fresh drink of water. The desert years were awful.  I tried to deal with the pain by telling myself the lie that “I just don’t care”.  I tried to cope using apathy.

 Being a “passive-aggressive” temperament, I never really faced the baggage and issues that we had in “our shop”.  I would either ignore the issues, or I would attack them.  Ignoring them was simply immature stupidity, and attacking them alienated Darleen and made her withdraw further into a protective shell.  Since I didn’t face the issues, I stayed in the desert.  Here’s a bit of Common Sense:  If you ignore the problems, they don’t go away and if you attack the problems and your spouse, you just create a whole new layer of problems.  Think:  Personal Growth.

 After seriously reflecting on the couple who settled into a “coexisting marriage”, I knew I was tired of being in the desert and I did not believe the lie that I just don’t care.  I woke up to the pressing reality that at my core I didn’t want to settle for a lifeless loveless marriage.  I did care and I deeply and truly loved my wife.  I wanted that soul mate relationship.  I wanted to live in that “Oasis”.

 Choices:  We all have choices.  My next step was to face the issues and begin the work of dealing with them.  And that took personal growth on my part and understanding the need for me to love Darleen through selfless serving.

The Soul Mate Dream

It’s true that when first married, we all envision an idyllic relationship.  We believe we have found our perfect match.  We enjoy being together; romantic music plays in our heads and our hearts beat a little faster. We’re so lonely when apart and we jump when the phone rings because we just can’t wait to hear that voice again.  This must be the right one.  Everything will be oh so wonderful…

After the wedding, reality is eventually exposed.  When the light turns on we uncover the boxes of issues both spouses brought to the marriage.   Over time, more issues pile up as our unique problems interplay with those of our spouse.  The intimacy we had is hindered and inevitably, we realize the ideal relationship we envisioned is but a dream.

We have spoken of our relationship being like a shop that is filled with clutter and boxes of old stuff.  The problems and issues in those boxes hinder us from being close.  And that’s where we live, in an old messy shop with problems, issues, fighting, and nagging.

Pause for a moment to reflect on this:

Can the dream of an ideal married life with a deep soul mate connection become a reality?

Imagine that you won a fantasy vacation to the most beautiful destination, a picture perfect private lover’s beach house with tall palm trees and white sand beaches.  Each room has sweeping views and tasteful decor.  As you look around you notice that there is no clutter, no boxes of old stuff. Each of you has been transformed. No issues keep you and the love of your life from being together, from enjoying each other fully.  Every day you feel a depth of love for each other that is otherworldly.  He is kind, understanding, and romantic.  And she really understands your deepest needs. You deeply love one another and you want to spend the rest of your lives together, right here.  You have begun to experience the joy of being soul mates.

Here’s the question: Where do you choose to live?  In a cluttered messy old shop with issues and problems that keep you apart?  Or will you choose to live in that idyllic location?  Yes, it is a choice to be soul mates but you can’t be effortlessly transported there.  We all start out in an old messy shop that we can transform into a soul mate relationship by hard work.

We must work every day on

  • personal growth and
  • selfless serving

In the journey, we will each grow and mature, getting rid of the old boxes and clutter.  We’ll clean up the mess over time, and we’ll discover a depth of love for each other that few experience.

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.