Mature Relationships Vs. Mexican Crabs

At a recent Marriage Retreat in San Diego we worked with a couple which had allowed competition in the relationship to tear at the foundation of the peace and well-being of the marriage. This was not simply a case of getting mad at one another over a game of Scrabble, but something that had infected all areas of their relationship as they compared who was contributing the most money to the marriage, who did the most around the house, who got the most laughs at the dinner party, or which one of them their kids liked the most. There is nothing healthy about this sort of competition in a marriage because it rarely leads to better performance in the relationship, instead driving wedges between the most important members of the family team.Once on a dock in Mexico we watched the crab fisherman unload their morning catch. Soon the dock was covered with large wooden crates, each filled with dozens of live crabs. I noticed that the crates had no lids and the fishermen were not paying much attention to the crabs, instead busying themselves with cleaning and securing their boats. As I watched some crabs climbing over their brother crabs towards the top of the crate I expected to soon see escaped crabs all over the dock.Mexican crabsBut the fishermen knew they had little to worry about. Each time a crab made it nearly to the top of the prison, another crab would reach out a claw, grab the escapee and pull it back into the writhing mass of creatures. It was as if the crabs stuck in the crate were saying to those making a bid for freedom, “No way, Buster! If I’m stuck in here, you’re staying in here with me!” I felt like saying to them, “Silly animals, why don’t you help one another? If you would only work together you could all make it back into the sea.”But instead they continued to climb over one another, knocking each other from their lofty perches back into the morass.Such is the case with many relationships as partners jockey for position, competing with one another, often taking some perverse pleasure in seeing the other stumble, because it somehow puts them “ahead in the game.” Sometimes the spouses will chip away at one another with comparisons, pointing out how far short the other falls when compared to some other person. And so they remain, trapped in their cage, unaware that a short climb above them lies beautiful sunlight and freedom if they would only give one another a loving boost and encouragement.In our next posting we will look at the opposite of this unhealthy competition and comparing and see how a marriage evolving into a mature and sharing relationship grows in peace and a sense of mutual well-being. To see this shift in couples is one of our greatest rewards as we work with them at our Marriage Retreats and Trainings.