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  • Writer's pictureShannon Johnson

The Honey Bucket of Relationships

In my work with couples, I always talk about this metaphorical bucket where they harbor resentment. As I was chatting with my sister last weekend, she reminded me about the term "bucket" being used in a positive sense. How do you fill your bucket? Well, that's not the visual I am going for when I talk about the very things that destroy relationships! So, we have switched the visual. For the purpose of this blog, I want you to picture a "honey bucket" -- a movable toilet.

I think we are all a little curious about what ends relationships. Is it money? Is it affairs? Is it the stresses of raising children? After over four decades or research, Dr. Gottman cited contempt as the #1 predictor of divorce. As a clinician, I absolutely agree that contempt poisons the relationship and can be difficult to repair. I watch couples heal from significant stress and betrayals that I really thought might end the relationship; meanwhile, others walk in the door without the history of stressful events, but the contempt has caused so much damage that it is difficult to repair the relationship.

So...the honey bucket. When you are in a long term relationship, you will see the good, the bad, and the ugly. Connection and happiness ebbs and flows in relationships, for all of us. Painful times are a given for everyone. As we go through these difficult times, if we don't repair hurt feelings, miscommunications, and negative interactions as we go, we deposit them in our honey bucket.

Let me give you some examples: maybe your spouse omitted information a few years ago about a sensitive topic, or maybe there were ugly things said in a fight. Maybe you feel like you are always giving more than your person. Maybe you felt betrayed at a family event. Maybe you feel unsupported in your dreams. Maybe your person undermined you as a parent. There is always something.

There are a couple ways to identify what is in your bucket. If you think about a memory and it brings an emotional or visceral reaction -- if just thinking about it causes stress, those are areas that hold resentment.

Or maybe you are an angry cleaner. Perhaps after a conflict, you start attacking your household tasks with a vengeance while your mind stews on all that has gone wrong. Those memories most likely signify areas where you hold resentment.

When you get into a fight, what are the topics that flare up? Again with my visuals...I have named this phenomenon lily pad jumping. We have all been there. We start to argue over the garbage, and suddenly one of us brings up the past. What about the time you lied to me? What about the time you called me lazy? What about the time you told your mother my secret? When we go into defensiveness, we tend to start data collecting about all the painful moments.

So what do we do with this honey bucket? Unfortunately, the idea that these moments of pain will just disappear is wishful thinking. If they have made it to the bucket, they need to be healed. If you are in therapy or an intensive weekend, this is what we do. We start working through the past, so it is no longer haunting the future.

If you are not in therapy, the key is that you talk about the memories that have caused resentment. Unfortunately, it doesn't work to dump the honey bucket out on your person's head during an argument. This just adds to the resentment. Instead, intentionally sit down and start talking through your thoughts, your feelings, and your needs regarding these situations.

If you need support learning how to have healing conversations, this is where Brandi and I come in. Join our Thriving Relationship Community on Facebook for weekly tips and live discussions. We also offer retreats a few times a year, to teach couples the skills to have meaningful conversation. We absolutely believe that learning these skills will fundamentally transform relationships.

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