by Jonathan Hart, LPC
As I write this, I have leftovers from last night’s dinner warming in the oven. I am doing this because our microwave blew up a few days ago, and we have yet to replace it. I am struck by how dependent we have become on the speed and convenience of the microwave. This is going to take half an hour rather than two minutes.
Even trying to figure out how to do something as simple as warming leftovers feels like rubbing two sticks together to make a fire. I can’t put the plastic container in the oven, so what do I use? Oh, yeah, that shiny metal paper stuff that we used to use all the time forever ago before microwaves! It takes more planning and foresight this way as well. I have to start thinking about making lunch earlier in order to have food ready when I am hungry.
As I stood pacing by the stove, I was struck by how this principle of having it done now invades everything from our kitchens to our relationships. In life and relationships we want problems to be resolved, and quickly. I see this frequently when I sit with a couple when there has been a breach of trust between the partners; anything from an exposed lie to an affair. The offending partner, though they are often very sorry and working hard to rebuild trust, can become impatient when that trust is not rebuilt within a few weeks. Because they are working hard, they begin to take offense when their mate has “bad days” when the hurt flashes back into their minds and the distrust resurfaces.
Our culture, and I think our human nature in general, has little patience for long-haul relationship maintenance. We have a tendency not to allow for the fact that we are all in process. We expect that when we communicate to someone that they have hurt us, they should immediately be able to rectify their behavior. We do not often leave room for the idea that the other person may need time to grow into a new way of being. When they fail, as most people will when they are attempting to change significantly, we brand them as incapable or unwilling, and keep them at a distance.
We especially need this patience when we are helping our children grow up. The way they learn how to be patient, responsible people is by seeing and living with patient and responsible adults. They will of course demonstrate poor behavior. Most often this is not because they are defiant or rebellious, but rather because they are trying to figure out how to manage in that circumstance. They need a good model to learn a better way than what they can come up with as a child. And they need to see that good model over and over and over again before they can understand and implement it themselves.
Every relationship takes time and effort in order to maintain and grow it, whether with adults or children. To get a tiny glimpse of what is required, try unplugging the microwave for a week.