Don’t Keep Going Back to Failed Relationships

Oct 29, 2018

Have you ever had a relationship where you weren’t getting what you needed or wanted? Or one where you were getting things that you didn’t want? Certainly you have. The question is, what did you do? Did you try to continually figure out what to do right, so you would get what you need? Did that work? We’ll explore the common human dynamic of trying harder with people when it isn’t going to work and talk about a better way to get what you need.

This is the story of the Coke machine. I want you to think about a vending machine for a moment. What do you do with a vending machine? You approach the machine, and there’s a little slot where you put your money, and there are all these choices...Coke, Diet Coke, Dr. Pepper, etc. You need something from the machine! You need something to drink! So you think, “AH! Finally. I found the Coke.”

So you approach the machine. You reach inside your pocket (note: this inside is important, because I’m really talking about your heart), and you pull out your money. You feed it to the machine and you hit the button. And nothing happens. So what do you do? You try again. You hit the machine. But it’s not working. You kind of bang on it a little bit. And then you kick it. You start to get unraveled at this thing. But then you notice this little red light that says it’s sold out of Coke. So then, you hit the other buttons, but the same thing happens. You keep banging different buttons and the same thing happens. The Coke is not coming forth. So what do you do? Well, if you’re rational, you hit the button that says “change” and you get your change out of the hole, unless that’s also broken. And what happens if it’s broken? You hit it again, but the change won’t come out, so you bang at it again. You’re finally really frustrated. Unless you’re really crazy, you don’t stay here all day with the broken Coke machine that has no Cokes and is not giving you your money back. Finally, you know what you do as a rational person? You write it off. You say the things out, it’s broken...and you go somewhere else to find another vending machine.

Now, let’s take this out of the metaphor and take it to the matters of the heart. A lot of times what we do is approach a person whose love, approval, or validation we need in some way. These are all normal things that we need in relationship. As a well-known proverb says, “A desire accomplished or a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” Now I want you to think about this. “Hope deferred makes the heart sick;” in other words, you’re looking for your Coke, or you’re looking for love in a place where it would be normal to expect it. You’re looking for some kind of validation or some kind of understanding in a place where it would be normal to expect it. What happens if you don’t get it? Your heart becomes sick.

Even before your heart gets sick, you start to protest. You’re in a relationship, whether at work or in your personal life. And you know...they ought to have a Coke for you! It should work!

It’s a machine that’s got the buttons, the lights. It ought to work! So you approach and you put your metaphorical quarter in and you share, and you’re nice, and you expect something back...but you don’t get it! What do you do? You protest. Something doesn’t happen, something stirs up inside of us that says, “Wait there’s something wrong! They should be treating me better than this! ” And that’s not a bad “should,” we should expect people to understanding instead of critical, mutual instead of dominating. So we try again. And we try again, and it doesn’t work. Now here’s the difference between relationships and the Coke machine. With the machine, you keep trying and you bang on it and if you don’t get your change you just say, “Stupid Coke machine,” and you move on. In relationships, something different happens. Something inside happens, potentially, if various issues inside us aren’t worked out. We don’t say, “Stupid coke machine” and do something different. In the case of relationships, besides going to get another one, there are other options. One of the things you can do is call the repairman and get the machine fixed. In marriage, you don’t just blow off a marriage, you go to marriage counseling or do something to try to fix it.

But before we do that sometimes, we think, “Wait a minute, it’s not a broken Coke machine. It’s me!” We think, “well maybe if I put another quarter in and give it more effort. Maybe I just need to please them more. Maybe if my hair looked different, and I looked better, or maybe if I were smarter or taller. Maybe If I didn’t want so much, so I’ll deny the things that I’m expecting from the relationship. Or maybe if I perform better. Do you see what’s happening here? The Coke machine is broken. It should deliver better than it does, theoretically. A person should be able to do these normal things. But that’s not happening. What happens in your mind is you approach the situation in an egocentric way, which is the child-like way of thinking that whatever is going on out there really has to do with you. If Mommy doesn’t love me, something is wrong with me. When this is translated into adulthood, we think we need to do better, be smarter, try harder, or deny what we need in the relationship. And we never realize it’s not about us, it has to do with them.

I don’t mean that in a blaming way. The “blaming way” is when we’re not taking responsibility for something that truly is about us. But here, you didn’t do anything wrong.

All you did was what you should’ve done. You put a quarter in and hit the button and something good should happen. When that doesn’t happen, we need say, “Something is going on here so we need to fix this. Either we need to repair our interaction, and I need for you to hear me, or we really need to go talk to someone to fix this.” But what we do is we personalize it. And I want you to be aware of this, because this upsets your psyche and the way that you are put together.

If I am blaming myself for the brokenness of the Coke Machine and I am trying to do something different in me to get it to do what it should be doing anyway, I’ve misdiagnosed the problem and the emphasis is on the wrong person changing. Now certainly, we all need to be changing and growing, no matter which end of a relationship we’re on. But stop thinking that more effort or better effort from you will magically make that machine work better. You can do other helpful things to begin the process of repair, but stop doing what doesn’t work. Putting more quarters in will not yield a Coke.