We don’t get new furniture very often, but the combination of stress, comedy, and my therapist brain continues to draw various similarities between building furniture, and building a healthy relationship.
During our eight years of marriage, my husband and I have lived in three apartments, one house, two states, and had three kids along the way. We are often trying to find ways to creatively use our space, and with each new venture, or new child, we add pieces of furniture to our collection. I’m always on the hunt for a good deal, so our furniture comes from an assortment of stores, websites, and brands. Some have been easy and some have been so difficult they raise the tension in our home to a level we were beyond words. However, each piece also brings about new insight and some quirky comparison.
Building a Relationship and Family of Origin
Just as furniture from Pottery Barn and IKEA can work together in the same room, so can people from different family backgrounds. It might seem like one is fancier than the other, or that certain backgrounds lead to healthier and more lasting relationships. But in the end, it is about how you make things work together in the present. Family origins are complicated and can dictate how we see our environment. They also speak to dysfunctional patterns that occur throughout our families as well as unexpected patterns whose impact we didn’t consider.
But your past doesn’t have to dictate your future. Building and maintaining a healthy relationship means taking those origins into consideration and then working together to build the home you and your family want today.
Unexpected Relationship Triggers
Along with our own origin stories, where we come from can also pack some surprises that trigger us emotionally and pop up when we least expect. We have bought some pieces of furniture that come with every nut and bolt required and Allen wrenches galore. They let you know exactly what you’re getting yourself into. But some places of origin forget to inform you that do not have all the required elements to complete the task and you lay out your new project hoping to finish before your six-month-old wakes from his nap.
Nothing is more frustrating than assembling a dresser for three hours only to find out two screws needed on the second to last step are left out of the supplies given with the furniture. In the same way, we can be weeks, months, or years into a marriage, and realize that our partner’s family didn’t equip them in some ways we expected.
The initial reaction: blame the origins. Isn’t life easier when it’s someone else’s fault? And will that help you build your relationship? Never. It will leave you with unfinished work and a space that feels out of balance. There is always a solution. It may take time or a few extra stops, but it isn’t beyond repair. And where there is a will, there is a way.
Feeling Ill-Equipped in Your Relationship (or Furniture-Building)
Life can overwhelm. You may find yourself in some unknown territory. I am the furthest thing from a handyman (or handy-woman) and probably not anyone’s first call to put together furniture. But if I take the time, and look at my resources, I can do what is needed to get the job done and do it well.
My family has experienced a move across the country, financial stress, an unexpected pregnancy, job loss, parenting challenges, and the list goes on. My husband and I were new to all of these events in our life. Neither of us knew the right way to do any of it. So we laid everything we had out in front of us. We saw where our strengths and weaknesses were highlighted and had some long hard conversations.
The key is that we are walking through these things together. Do not think it is a picture where we are holding hands walking into the sunset. I assure you, it is not. It is looking at choices and options every day. Learning from experiences and also finding people who can support you along the way.
Communication: Find Your Manual for Building a Relationship
Nothing is going to get done if you don’t communicate. No matter what part of the process you are in, communication is so important. There will be no progress if you are not on the same page.
While marriage doesn’t come with the precise instruction manual of an IKEA purchase, there are various methods and guides that focus on how to enhance your communication during stressful times. Plus, they don’t all require months in therapy. Resources like the Gottman Institute and Henry Cloud regularly post articles and relationship information on their Facebook pages that are accessible every day. They are great tools for a little tune-up.
Focus on Your Relationship Goals
Just as a piece of furniture is a single element in a larger environment you are trying to create, pieces of your relationship like budgeting, parenting, and figuring out when you can have a date night are single elements of the larger picture of your relationship or your marriage. And you may not get things right the first time, and that is OK. A lot of people don’t. Stay focused on what your goals are for your relationship and what you want your life to be. You will find the right pieces to add to your life to get you there.