A Grilled Cheese Sandwich Can Save a Relationship
I love grilled cheese.
It's the sandwich equivalent of wrapping myself in a warm robe.
Temperature and texture are everything.
Have you ever taken a bite out of a grilled cheese, and the cheese wasn't fully melted?
Or the bread and the cheese aren't aligned so some bites are too cheesy and some bites are too bready?
But when it's right, it's all the best things in one sandwich... warm, toasty bread, melted butter, ooey-gooey cheese. Yes, please!
We want things to be just right because we crave the settling, safe feeling of satisfaction.
Damp clothes that haven't finished drying...
Room temperature soup...
A skipping record...
I had an exchange this weekend that has lingered over into my Monday morning coffee...
In our relationships, what truly satisfies us???
Have you ever received a half-hearted, generalized compliment?
You know what I mean... "You're awesome," or "You're the best!" What do these things even mean? They're general niceties, but they don't really satisfy, do they? Compare these words with, "You know, I notice how calmly you handle yourself in stressful situations, and I want to tell you that your grace under pressure is inspiring," or "You really discipline yourself to read and learn, and I admire that about you."
Different. When a compliment is specific, it lands. If we are receiving it, we experience being seen and reflected, and this, Friends, is satisfying.
Ever get a half-hearted apology?
"Okay, I'm sorry... are you satisfied?"
No. Quite frankly, I'm not. Compare that with this: "Yesterday, when we were talking, I wasn't really listening. I've had a lot on my mind, and it's been hard to stop from over-thinking, but I know that what you were sharing was important to you, and I really failed to hear you. I can see how hurt you are, and I'm sorry. Please forgive me. "
Folks, we need to take a lesson from a grilled cheese sandwich: getting it right matters, and cutting corners doesn't satisfy.
I work with couples who are in the throes of emotional distress. Their connection has been significantly disrupted, and they lack the skills to reconnect in a meaningful, lasting, satisfying way. Here's where couples counseling comes in. It's about restoring connection, and here's what I've learned: only the real thing works.
Only real validation calms tension. To validate someone is to legitimize their perspective. If we can't listen well enough and put ourselves in someone else's shoes long enough, we'll fail at this every time. But the real thing is satisfying. It sounds like this, "What you are saying makes sense. I hear you. When I think about who you are, what you desire, and how you are seeing this situation, you make sense to me. I get you." This satisfies.
Only real apologies heal wounds. An apology is an acknowledgment that one person's human weakness has caused another pain. An apology that fails to acknowledge the pain of another lacks healing power. It's unsatisfying. But when we give or receive an apology that exposes weakness and acknowledges pain, bridges are being built!
Only real empathy touches another person's heart. Sympathy is a sad counterfeit. Sympathy says, "Yeah, I can see you're hurting. That stinks." Empathy says, "I know what it feels like to be hurt. I get it. I feel it. I feel your hurt by remembering my own." Unless or until we can slow down, get into our hearts, and actually feel what another person is feeling, we are not empathizing. And real empathy does wonders. It says, "You are not alone in this. I'm hurting too. Your hurt matters because my hurt matters, so let's get out of this together." That togetherness is so satisfying.
Only real compassion connects. Compassion is what we feel when another person's pain and suffering cause a stirring within us. Compassion is not an intellectual acknowledgement that another person is upset. It is a bodily phenomenon. It moves us toward another person. The real thing communicates that we are connected by a bond that says, "Your wellbeing is my wellbeing. I'm moved toward you and you toward me because we are part of one another." Compassion screams connection. And connection is satisfying.
These words - validation, apology, empathy, compassion - are the building blocks of relationship. They are skills that can be understood, practiced, and honed. And they work.
When they are real, they satisfy.
A friend recently came for dinner, and after he left, I received this text:
"My heart is full."
Oh, how that wrapped my heart in warmth! That was my goal - to connect with my loved one in such a way that when he left my presence, he felt... full.
I'm going to grab another cup.
Until next time...