3 Thoughts on Avoiding the Comparison Trap
My wife and I had dinner with a couple this week who was struggling because of failed conflict resolution attempts in their marriage. They had a lot of good moments but when conflict reached a certain level the environment typically became explosive. This was a cycle that continued to occur in their marriage and the reactions that accompanied the conflict were very destructive to the relationship. In fact, the wife was contemplating whether or not she could continue in the marriage due to how she was feeling. If you’re hoping I’m going to lead you down the path of helping them develop healthy conflict resolution skills and report they now live in blissful harmony you’ll have to go back and read my blog on resolving conflict here.
This was actually just to set the context for a discussion detour we took during the dinner that neither us nor them had anticipated. In one of the back and forth exchanges between the couple while at dinner, one of them mentioned a relative of theirs that didn’t seem to be experiencing the same issues they were. “They seem to be able to have disagreements without intentionally trying to make each other pay the way my spouse does with me,” they said. “I just don’t get it.” And with that statement we took a bit of a rabbit trail that was extremely important for them and might be helpful for you as well.
Have you ever found yourself comparing your marriage to your sister’s, brother’s, friend’s or co-worker’s? Does looking at everyone else’s social media posts cause you to think you’re the only marriage that struggles? It’s easy to look around and compare our marriages to others, becoming discouraged and believing that we must be doing something wrong. If you’re stuck in the comparison trap here are 3 thoughts to consider.
#1 YOU’RE COMPARING YOUR DIFFICULTIES TO THEIR HIGHLIGHT REEL
The problem with comparison is we rarely compare apples to apples. We are usually looking at other people’s highlight reels: their greatest achievements, their proudest moments, their best days. Then we compare that with our regular days where nothing exciting is happening or our darkest moments where hope seems like an unattainable dream. We become confused and fearful because we’re making a wrong comparison that is driving false assumptions about how great they really and how bad we really are. Nobody is as great as their highlight reel and nobody is as bad as their lowest moments. The reality is somewhere in between. We have seasons of hard work, frustration, hurt, and disappointment as well as seasons of growth with moments of joy and laughter. Take a deep breath, give yourself a little grace to have bad days while keeping the focus on the good in your relationship.
#2 THEY ARE PROBABLY LYING!!!!
Webster’s Dictionary defines lying as: “marked by or containing untrue statements.” Can someone say “90% of Social Media?” You already know this but let me remind you. That post she threw up last Monday (you know for man crush Monday…insert eyeroll) talking about how she just can’t believe she has the greatest husband in the world and is so blessed to be called his wife…lies. She was in my counseling office Friday afternoon talking about selfish he is and asking for a Bible verse that endorses her desire to divorce him. You may be chuckling right now but I can promise you with absolutely zero exaggeration that I have seen that scenario hundreds of times over the last ten years of counseling couples. Here’s the reality of modern day social media. We don’t post selfies where the husband and wife are on two sides of the sectional watching tv and texting other people on their phones. No, I’m not peeking in your window, that’s most couples. In fact, hold on a minute my wife just text me…from the kitchen!
We take quick shots of our fake smiles because we were fighting during dinner but look cute and don’t want to miss the photo op! We don’t talk the whole car ride home and as soon as we change into shorts or leggings we post the “happy couple” picture on Instagram with a bunch of stupid hashtags — #datenight #blessed #marriagegamestrong #bae #happywifehappylife #healthymarriagesrock. I’m actually getting agitated as I write this. You know what would make me feel better? I’m going to stop typing, get on Instagram and comment #weknowyoulying on 10 fake, happy couple pictures to make myself feel better….ahhhh, much better. Yes, I know that it’s petty but sometimes petty feels good. Tweet that! Listen, don’t believe everything you see or hear, there is likely another side to the relationship you’ll never get to see. They’re not perfect and neither are you.
#3 SOME COUPLES GET LUCKY
Back to the couple we had dinner with. As we talked about comparison, I mentioned a couple they spend a considerable amount of time with and said to them, “Don’t ever compare yourselves to Darren and Michelle.”(not real names) Some couples just hit the lottery when they get married in the area of conflict. For some, it just so happens that they are both really easy going. For some, their personality makeups just happen to fit really well together. For some, they both have similar communication styles and perspectives on decision making that causes little or no friction. For some, their priorities and values prior to marriage were very similar so there doesn’t need to be much compromise or sacrifice. But for most couples….Their strengths and weaknesses are complimentary which means great strength when they are valuing the differences and great conflict when not. Most couples have different communication styles that cause conflict and misunderstanding. Most couples have different upbringings which create conflicting expectations. Most couples have hurt and wounds from family and past relationships that cause them to react poorly to similar behaviors from their spouse.
I could go on and on and on with respect to this subject of differences, but just make sure you don’t miss what I’m about to say next. The couple you may be comparing yourself to could be a couple that invests less in their marriage, doesn’t work as hard as you do in your relationship, has never been to counseling, won’t read a marriage book or learn new marriage tools, and yet gets along great simply because they got lucky. Your job is not to compare your marriage to someone else. Your job is to make your marriage the best it can be by believing the best in your spouse, by intentionally investing in the relationship and by selflessly loving your spouse to the best of your ability. Comparison breeds discontentment so avoid the trap.