Earlier today while sitting in my workspace, I peered over my computer to see a mountain of stuff on the table: some trash from last night’s takeout, some mail which never made it to the incoming mail bin in the bedroom, some dog treats and dog paraphernalia from dog sitting, empty Bubly cans littered about, notecards and post it notes scattered, pens, snacks, dead “thank you” flowers from a neighbor, and other random objects.
Did I not just clean this table?!
Much of my life takes place in this spot. Many of my jobs are completed, in large part, at this very table. We eat most of our meals here. It is located conveniently by the front door, so many items get plopped on it when we are in a hurry, or I just want to deal with it later.
Eventually, I have enough. I cannot take this mess anymore!!! At that time, I feverishly remove items, throw away trash, put dishes in the sink, and straighten up the items which belong on the table. Then I gaze at the finished product with contentment and think, “I am not going to let it get messy again.” And a week later…
Messy again. And once again I am amazed. Did I not just clean this table?!
Relationships are no different – especially romantic partnerships. If we do not take small, daily steps towards cleaning up the little messes, they grow out of control before we know it. There is a voice in the back of my mind (which sounds like a mixture of my mom and Eric) telling me that if I put things back where they belong immediately, I will not have a mess to clean up later.
It would be nice if relationships were as simple as washing the dishes before they pile up; but, two fallen humans trying to work through the ins and outs of life (with different personalities and life experiences) makes keeping relationships “clean” a bit more complicated. However, the basic rule remains: if we take small, daily steps towards cleaning up the little messes, the relationship stays far cleaner than if we ignore it until it is out of control.
Be intentional about cleaning up your messes. It is amazing how quickly the trash and clutter take over the house.
- Check in with each other throughout the day. Not to work through problems, but simply to remain in communication. Sending texts, memes, and sharing fun videos throughout the day may feel natural at this stage in your relationship, but over time (especially as work responsibilities and obligations grow and change), staying in touch may fall from the top of your minds. It is easier to talk about unpleasant topics (later at home in person) when you are in consistent, pleasant contact with each other.
- Be quick to apologize. Apologizing is far easier for some personalities than for others. In fact, some people apologize too much, making their expressions of regret seem diluted and weak. Others avoid apologies when they are desperately needed, causing their partners to feel unappreciated and undervalued (or to wonder if they are crazy for feeling hurt). We should not spout off apologies habitually or withhold them due to pride, but we should evaluate our interactions and present genuine apologies when appropriate.
- “Clean off the table” each evening. Take fifteen minutes while you are cleaning up the kitchen or folding laundry to talk to each other about the day. If something small needs a quick fix, talk about it. Ask for clarification if an interaction left you confused. Clear the air if needed. Laugh together. Be sure to talk meaningfully at least once a day. Somewhere out there, a parent of little children is laughing at me right now. (“You try having meaningful conversations while wrangling a houseful of babies into bed each night.”) There are seasons when communication is more challenging than others, but that is when it is even more important to remain in close fellowship with each other, even if it requires spending more time, energy, and money to do so.
- Have weekly check-ins. Some issues are too much to explore and work through during the business of the week. Bringing them up when stressed or tired can create a larger mess. For those concerns, we recommend setting aside time on the weekends (or whenever you are both available, less stressed, and more rested) to check in with each other. To ask each other, “How is your heart?” To talk through disappointments, misunderstandings, and to reconnect. (We straighten up the table daily, but we vacuum, dust, and clean the bathroom once a week.)
- Pray together daily. The divorce rate among couples who pray together is astronomically lower than for couples who do not. Have you ever tried praying with someone you want to clobber with a wooden spoon? When we go before the Lord, we should humble ourselves and the Holy Spirit convicts us of our sin. No one who remains angry and unforgiving will have an effective prayer life.
Between us, I am no housekeeper. (Can you hear Eric testifying?) Whatever gene drives people to create order, I did not get it. When I do go days in a row with a clean kitchen, it is due to extreme effort. My constant temptation is to deal with it later. It may be the laundry which needs folding. It may be a phone call I need to make. It may be plans I need to solidify. And, it may be talking to Eric about my concerns, hurts, frustrations, or anger.
Unfortunately, the bigger the mess becomes, the more overwhelming it is to correct. At times, I want to throw everything in my house out to the front yard and only bring 10% of our belongings back inside. When a mess grows too large, it feels easier the throw everything away than to purge, organize, and clean. This is how many divorces occur. It becomes “too much” and throwing the relationship away feels like the only option.
One of the main reasons we began PreEngaged is to help dating couples circumvent some of the common snares newlyweds face – the pitfalls we faced and fell into face first. As avoiding pitfalls go, we rank keeping a “clean” relationship in the top three. Messes happen. We are selfish, fallen creatures who depend on God’s grace for every breath. So, by God’s grace, we encourage you and your significant other to prioritize cleaning. Take small, consistent steps to keep your communication lines, and your hearts, clutter-free. As you are looking for a life mate, or determining if you should marry the person you are dating, ask yourself, “Is this someone who ignores problems or faces them? Is this someone who is as determined as I am to keep our relationship running smoothly?”
Do a quick inspection of your relationship. Is clutter starting to pile up or dust collecting? Are there small changes you both can make to keep your communication lines free and clear? Have a conversation with your partner this week about steps you can take to clean and maintain your relationship.
And I will work on cleaning off this table… again.
So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. (Matthew 5:23-24, ESV)
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32, ESV)
Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. (James 1:19-20, ESV)
But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. (I John 1:7, ESV)
Do you tend to put off cleaning up the messes in your life and relationship?