Chaos, Broken Relationships, Healthy Relationships, and Why We Have Them

laundry

The first time that I remember hearing about entropy was in a high school. Simply put, it means that things will tend to chaos. Ordered things will tend to disorder. Life gets messy. Entropy is significant enough that we have thermodynamic laws to help us understand how it will impact a system.

Now this isn’t a physics blog. This is a relationships blog. We’re not getting into the nitty gritty of thermodynamics and formulas here, but the principle is still relevant. In fact, I believe the principle is crucial to understanding what makes healthy relationships healthy.

So what, things tend to chaos. Do you really believe that? I mean, does your life stay immaculate? For some reason this principle makes me think of laundry. I can do all the laundry, the washing, the drying, even folding it. But if it doesn’t make it into the dresser, forget it. It’s like nothing happened. Or eating. If I don’t meal plan, I go from relatively healthy meals to a lot of frostbitten foods.

Now these are all pretty domestic examples, but what about the rest of life? Work is a good laboratory to see entropy in action. What happens when people don’t pay attention to the details? When they aren’t putting energy into the system? Deadlines get missed and work product suffers.

For example, I worked in fast food my sophomore year of college. The University would hold conferences every so often, and when they did our lunch rush was way more intense. One particularly bad day things were insanely overwhelming. Pizza was falling out of the oven onto the floor, mozzarella sticks that spent too much time in the fryer were exploding. Sometimes when the chaos happens it feels like everything is bursting at the seams.

Maybe you’re on board with me now, or you’ve agreed all along (bless you). But what about relationships? How do we describe the beginning of relationships? Hollywood is good if you’re looking for examples. Love at first sight. The one. (One of my favorites courtesy of none other than Mr. Darcy “You have bewitched me, body and soul.”)

It all sounds magical, wonderful, exciting… and out of control. Not in a bad way, but literally out of the realm of your control. It happened to you. You were just doing your thing and got hit by lightning. I’m not saying it can’t start that way, but what happens when we keep this mentality past relationship formation? If it’s out of your control, and you just ride the wave of it, as exciting as it can be, where do you end up? Do you land at “happily ever after?”

You probably land at “we just fell out of love.” “It wasn’t the same anymore.” “We became different people.” Suddenly, if you want to have a lifelong relationship, it feels more like the lottery than it does love. And if you lose this lottery you lose a lot more than just a piece of failed paper. You lose big. You lose time, you lose sleep, you lose money, all on top of the emotional heartache you just “gained.”

A lot of us subscribe to this thought to some degree, especially when we are younger, without even really being aware of it. I used to think that I’d know what love really was when I found someone that being with felt effortless. I had a friend ask me when he was engaged what if he woke up and he wished he hadn’t married her. What if we fall out of love?

It’s a legitimate concern. We hear people tout (inaccurately, by the way) that 50% of marriages end in divorce. There’s a lot of angst around the thought of marriage. What are we supposed to do? What’s the point if it’s just Russian roulette?

This fated mentality is wrong. This is all fallacious. While finding the love of your life may be harder to deduce and pinpoint, staying in a relationship with them is not. Healthy relationships are the product of intentions.

When I say intentions, I mean the act of putting energy into a system. In other words, they are pro-relationship actions. In the words of renowned marriage therapist and family scholar Dr. John Gottman, it’s choosing to turn towards each other. Staying in love is not a matter of chance and fate, but rather of choice and action. Of taking time and making a priority. This is true of all relationships, not just of romantic ones. Good parenting, I believe, is a product of great intentionality.

This probably seems obvious, and not the big reveal I made it out to be. (If it was, surprise!) But is it obvious? According to Gottman, of the 900,000 couples that divorce each year, less than 10% seek counseling (Read his great article¬†here). Granted, there are some exceptions and non-typical situations in that 900,000. I’m not talking about those instances. And it’s also important to point out that it takes intention on both sides to make it a healthy relationship. But still, less than 10% get help? Do we really believe our actions and choices can keep a relationship together?

The reality is that all of us will wake up one day and wonder if we married the wrong person. Not because we made the wrong choice, but because it’s normal. We will all have white knuckle moments in our relationships — that’s entropy. But, fortunately, we can choose to be intentional beings. The gravity that holds a relationship together, when life tries to strain it apart, is a product of choices. Of intentions. Of hundreds of decisions, big and small, daily and momentous, to turn towards each other.

At the end of the day, (allow me to step up on my soapbox), I truly believe that it’s our efforts in marriage and our family that will make society better. Each healthy relationship gives someone else hope that family can be a place of strength and refuge, not just tumult and strain. But strong families don’t just happen. We work for them. We fight for them.