The single greatest plague destroying relationships is our unwillingness to grow. Imagine if tech companies spent all their time trying to defend and validate their previous models and no time innovating new ones. Imagine if an athletic franchise refused to play an upcoming season because they wanted to argue about how great the previous was. Our society thrives on progress. On innovation. In almost every area of our lives, it is learning from the past (mistakes and triumphs) and moving forward that most defines success.
Yet, somehow, we’ve left our ability to relate to one another as an exception to this way of living. If we want to grow and succeed in our relationships, we have to be willing to move forward, to innovate the way we relate and the way we connect with others.
An Impossible Promise
Our default approach to relationships is this: to fight for my way. This is the patterned behavior we have learned. I must prove myself. I must defend and validate and promote my self-interest and well-being.
The reason so many relationships break down is because we enter a new relationship in order to fill perceived gaps in our quality of life. We don’t want to give anything; we just want to get what is lacking. We don’t want our perceptions challenged or our methods scrutinized. We want to do and be what we have always been and done. When relating costs us something rather than continually endorsing our paper house, we bail.
I see this so much when I talk to missionary singles about their hope for marriage. It’s all about what marriage will do for them and how great and fulfilled they will feel. They seem oblivious to the fact there is going to be another person in this relationship! We watch movies where romantic lovers make promises like ‘I’ll never hurt you’ or ‘I won’t let anything bad happen to you’ and it feeds our desire to be protected and validated at all costs.
These impossible promises and stubborn expectations aren’t doing us any favors. We need to find a way to relate that acknowledges our own imperfections and our need to come together.
When Kylie and I first got married, a lot of our decisions were jockeying for position. Was it the way my family used to do it or the way her family used to do it that would win out? How would we do holidays? Chores around the house? Vacations? I never knew how many expectations I had until my marriage started to challenge them.
All we knew was what we knew. But we realized early on that we were creating a new family. It was not her family’s way or my family’s way. There’s no winners in doing a marriage like that. We decided to move away from both families because our marriage was something new.
We got to use the wonderful and diverse foundations of how our parents did things. But it was up to us to make decisions that were ours. And often, that came at a price for one of us or the other.
Any relationship you enter is unique to any that has ever existed in the history of the world. The coming together of two people is not a cookie-cutter event with a simple universal solution. Relationships are the collision and merger of two very complex systems of humanity. It is up to the pair to figure out the balance of hearing, being heard, setting boundaries, and communicating so that this newly innovated relationship can take place in its best and most effective form.
A Cautionary Warning
One tendency to be warned about is to over-innovate. My brother was once in a relationship that had to change the way it functioned every week or they got bored. It was a relationship addicted to drama. There is a big difference between discovering the nuances of a new relationship and getting lost in a kaleidoscope of change for changes sake.
Allow yourself some room to fail and false start and discover. But if you are taking two steps forward, two steps back, two steps sideways and two steps diagonal, over and over again, you are not innovating relationship but creatively avoiding it.