Relationships thrive with a mix of predictability, strength and a little surprise.
My wife and I have been married for almost 19 years. The last five years have been the best and some of the toughest years. We don’t have things figured things out, and in fact, we work at things all of the time. Sometimes it is okay, sometimes fun and sometimes exhausting. But over the years, we are better at relationship recycling.
For me, relationship recycling means that relationships take repeated work, often in sensitive or painful areas. Pain tells us that there can be a second life, a recycled life for issues, problems and pains to the point where they can become a benefit to your life.
After a lot of years your relationship will have mountains of stuff to wade through. The treasures are still there, but you have to work for them. In some ways, the work gets much easier because you know what you need to do. And just like any recycling project, you have to invest energy to get something that you are proud of.
Keeping the house clean
One of the main reason we recycle is to create more usable space, more usable stuff in your home. It is practical: you want to keep the house clean and make sure your stuff is in order. This gives you a sense of purpose – take care of your stuff and make a more inviting living space. Relationship recycling is exactly like that.
Couples that succeed work towards important goals. Goals like having a home worth keeping clean, having self respect, building inter-dependency, being present emotionally for each other and loving your kids if you have them.
Sure, recycling is about wading through a lot of stuff. But it is for the right reasons: you and your family. Couples recycle because we can’t handle new stuff all of the time – that would be overwhelming. So we rehash. Sometimes we need to rely on old strengths and we keep things predictable. Relationships thrive with a mix of predictability, strength and the magic of surprise.
Sometimes we can recycle too much. It can become a pattern of rehashing old conflicts and using old and worn strengths. Predictability can kill your love, your fire, “familiarity breeds contempt.” But familiarity is also the bedrock of trust and love. If I have learned anything in my relationship of almost 20 years, it is that you need a bedrock of knowing each other for a relationship to last.
The 3 R’s of relationship recycling
Recycling is about creating a sustainable culture, and a sustainable relationship. Relationship recycling has three components:
- Reframing – seeing things from a different and more appreciative perspective
- Redeeming – believing that you deserve good things and that good things can come out of your story
- Renewing – recommitting to love and to keeping the relationship alive
How do you make relationship recycling work for you?
1.Clear away the clutter – You cannot add all new stuff or recycled stuff without making some room. You cannot ask the other person to change without first investing in changing yourself IN this relationship.
If you are doing too much recycling, repeating the same arguments, ask yourself “What does this say to you?” It may mean that the content is really important to both of you.
- Is there a way to communicate the content more sensitively, differently (eg: through writing) or with help (eg: a therapist)?
- Or, could you just ask for a ‘do-over’? Tell your partner how you see you are recycling the same arguments and it is important. But underneath there are important issues, and sensitive feelings. These underlying issues are what the recycling is trying to get at.
2. Only take what you need – trust yourself that you know what you need. Recycling is about having a plan and being open to surprises. Recycling won’t work if you try to do everything at once. Start small and pick one important thing.
One of the things you need to recycle is self care and love for yourself. The world can beat you down, caring for yourself is one way to care for your relationship.
3.Use it – Recycling is nothing but junk until it is used. Old things can be precious but they need to be used if they are going to be appreciated. You cannot give life to something by hiding it in your garage or keeping it in your storage closet.
Be proud of what you are learning and how you are growing. Celebrate that. Create a reminder in your living room, a celebration to your relationship or to the moments that are making you stronger.
Keep it Real
Photo by Got Credit