Jenny Block sparks joy in tidying up relationships

“Does it spark joy?” It seems that everywhere I turn I see that question. It’s all over social media. It comes up in conversation after conversation. While staying at a friend’s home last weekend, I saw they had even put it up on their kitchen bulletin board. It emanates, of course, from Maria Kondo’s Netflix series called Tidying Up, a show about ditching clutter and embracing organization. It’s based on one principal: letting go of anything that doesn’t spark joy.

It’s not a new concept, but it’s certainly a surprising new resurgence. Or maybe not so surprising. Our consumerist, “more of everything” culture can be exhausting. Mostly because no matter how much you buy, it’s never enough and there’s always more to be bought and there’s always someone with the ability to buy even more than you can. It’s a Sisyphean way of life that has virtually no chance of leading to happiness.

Sadly, we often model our relationships after that same concept. We add more friends, more activities, more trips. It’s as if we think we can bury ourselves in the external to avoid the internal. It’s a lousy idea, and it is a surefire recipe for disaster. It’s like building a house with no foundation. All the pretty, shiny things in the world aren’t going to hold up a house. It’s the sturdy boring basics that do that job and do it well.

If we want to have a healthy, long-lasting relationship, we have to tidy up. We have to only do the things we really want to do. You don’t have to say yes to every invitation. We have to only possess the things that, yes, bring us joy. We have to only take the trips to the places we want to go, not the places that we think will help fill our Instagram or avoid having any real conversations with our partners.

Speaking of conversations, most of us could use some tidying it up when it comes to how we talk to our partners and what we talk about, too. Communication is stellar. In fact, there is no doubt that it is the key to a strong relationship. But communication is not the same as word vomit. When we share with our partner, it needs to be about what we need them to know. Not just what we need to say.

Sometimes we use sharing as an excuse to say things that we need to get off our chest. But they are not things that our partner needs to hear. For example, telling your partner how much their kid, sibling, friend, fill-in-the-blank drives you batty because of who they are, what they’ve done, or how they relate to your partner. The thing is, unless the person in question is actually a danger to your partner, all you’re doing is airing your disgruntlement to the very person who doesn’t need to hear it.

It’s like telling a sick person how hard it is taking care of them. Of course it’s hard. But talk to your friends and family about that, not the person for whom you are caring. This example may seem obvious, but we need to be just as conscious of editing our conversations when it comes to our partner. Even if that kid, sibling, friend, fill-in-the-blank, drives them nuts too, it’s different. They’re allowed to complain about them. You’re not.

Sometimes it seems like our relationships are drowning in our “more of everything” culture that tells us to buy it all, be it all, share it all.

But the carefully curated-life is actually the much happier one just as the carefully curated relationship is, as well. I am not talking about censoring yourself or hiding things from your partner. I’m talking about being conscious and kind.

When looking at an object we ask, “Does it spark joy?” Sure, not every necessary conversation is going to spark joy. But it would behoove us to at least T.H.I.N.K. before we speak.

T – Is it true?
H – Is it helpful?
I – Is it inspiring?
N – Is it necessary?
K – Is it kind?

Not everything we share with our partner will get high marks when it comes to inspiring. But it certainly should get straight A’s when it comes to the rest.

Being in a relationship is hard, and not every moment is going to spark joy. But almost every relationship could benefit from a little tidying up. Pare back to the essentials. Stick to what sparks joy. And be gentle with your words. It’s all about intention, and our intentions should always be to curate and cultivate relationships in a way that allows both partners to grow both as individuals and as a couple. Joy begets joy. Honor the spark.

You can write to Jenny Block at [email protected]